FG defies Canada, insists Air Peace must evacuate 319 stranded Nigerians

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By Dayo Ademola, Lagos

The Federal Government has defied the Canada High Commission in Nigeria by insisting that Nigerian carrier, Air Peace which it had earlier designated, must evacuate the over 319 Nigerians stranded from the North American country.

The government’s latest decision is coming on the heels of the outcry by Nigerians that a foreign carrier should not be allowed to evacuate Nigerians when there are Nigerian carriers are capable of doing the same.

The Federal Government had earlier designated Air Peace to airlift the evacuees but the Canada High Commission appeared to give preference to Ethiopian Airline to bring the Nigerians back to the country.

The decision, will come at a higher cost and will take a longer time as the plane would make a stopover in Addis Ababa before bringing them to Nigeria.

Information available to Premium Reporters revealed that Air Peace was scheduled to airlift Canadian citizens from Nigeria to Canada after which it will evacuate Nigerians from Toronto and bring them back to Nigeria.

Commending the government, President of Aviation Round Table (ART), an industry think tank group, Dr Gbenga Olowo praised the action taken by the Federal Government so far, especially the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Godfrey Onyeama for insisting that a Nigerian carrier should be allowed to airlift the evacuees.

“The ART strongly support the Federal Government for maintaining its position that a Nigerian carrier should evacuate Nigerians from Canada and any other country. This is not a commercial flight; this is an emergency flight operated under a force majure situation. This does not require commercial agreement or Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA). But what they want to do is to intimidate Air Peace and deny Nigeria the opportunity of its own airline to evacuate Nigerian citizens. The Nigerian carrier is using a very good aircraft, a Boeing 777 ER (extended range), which is very good for the operation,” Olowo who is also the President of Sabre Network, West Africa said.

Another industry stakeholder and consultant, Amos Akpan gave kudos to the FG saying: “The Federal Government has been explaining how it prefers a Nigerian airline, Air Peace, to be the carrier to bring back Nigerians from Canada. I join to applaud this move.

“I have maintained that international flight operation is part of international diplomacy using the aviation business platform. International diplomacy is a war fought on business fronts. Unless the decision to back Nigerian designated airlines in the international arena is viewed from this perspective, the war would be fought; won or lost, while we are still at the discussion table.

“If Ethiopian or any non-Nigerian airline operates this flight, it means we lost this diplomatic manoeuvre. Air Peace met the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Operations Specifications Audit. Air Peace met the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA)’s Air Operators Certification requirements to operate B777 drawn from International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) technical specifications. Air Peace carried Israelis to Israel. My point is that Air Peace is technically and operationally qualified like any other country’s airline,” Akpan said.

Speaking in the same vein, a lawyer who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and one of the stranded Nigerians affected who had already bought a business class ticket for the flight, said that Nigerians and others have already paid Air Peace for the flight and what Air Peace charged was far cheaper than what the Canada High Commission asked the evacuates to pay Ethiopia Airlines.

“I commend the Federal Government for fighting for our indigenous carriers. I am supposed to be on that flight. I paid for business class for N800, 000. Air Peace charged $1,134 for economy class and 319 evacuees have paid but Ethiopian Airlines is charging $2, 500 for economy class. This is an emergency flight which all countries are using their own airlines to bring back their people from different parts of the world. Air Peace has met all the requirements to evacuate Nigerians and I hail the Federal Government for insisting that Nigerian carrier must carry out the operation.

He said that if Air Peace airlifts Nigerians it would take a shorter time to bring them back home but they would spend longer time with Ethiopian Airlines.

“I think we should support our local airlines. If we don’t support them, they cannot grow. They have employed so many Nigerians, they pay their taxes and their employees pay taxes and they contribute to the nation’s GDP. It is high time Nigerians stood for their own for the national interest. Air Peace has passed all tests. If Israel, which is highly security conscious, has used Air Peace to evacuate its citizens, it means the airline has good certification. It has passed all the tests required of it,” the lawyer said.

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