The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) on Tuesday kicked against the Federal Government’s decision to commence the full implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) in the country.

The Chairman of AON, Capt. Nogie Meggison, expressed the operators’ displeasure when he spoke with newsmen in Lagos.

SAATM will be inaugurated on Friday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by the African Union Commission (AUC).

SAATM is a flagship project of the African Union Agenda 2063 to create a single unified air transport market in Africa and to create the liberalisation of civil aviation in Africa as an impetus to the continent’s economic integration agenda.

African governments, African airlines and other stakeholders have been charged to adopt and implement the Yamoussoukro Declaration (YD) as a means to curb the excessive incursion of mega carriers from Europe and the Middle East, especially with the carting away of over 80 per cent of the market from the continent.

The Minister of State for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, had on Tuesday reaffirmed the government’s commitment toward the full implementation of SAATM by 2018.

However, Meggison said the airlines were opposed to the decision to implement SAATM because the airlines were not carried along by the government.

He said the government went ahead to sign the declaration’s implementation without putting in place facilities to aid domestic airlines to compete.

Meggison questioned if the country was actually ready for the intra-African open skies and what the benefits were, especially since the AON feels the playing field was not level and was skewed against Nigerian carriers with regards to how their neighbours tax and charge them.

“I expected that the government should have sat with the Nigerian airlines to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of implementing this on the airlines.

“Our position is that we are not comfortable with the decision by the Nigerian government because we cannot compete favourably with the African airlines if our skies are fully opened,’’ he said.

Meggison urged the government to ensure a level playing field and an enabling environment for the local airlines before the implementation of the open sky decision.

“Are we even ready for the open sky with our African airlines?

“This is because the Nigerian airlines source for fund at 28 per cent from the financial institutions, while our other African airlines borrow at a single digit interest rate.

“We have more than 50 airlines in the past that have collapsed as a result of unsustainable and negative policies by the past governments,’’ he said.

Meggison therefore, advised the government to reconsider its decision on the implementation of the agreement due to the negative impact it would have on domestic airlines.

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