• Tom Jordan

Air Peace asks Nigerian government for bailout

An Air Peace Boeing 777-300 (5N-BWI). Photo by Anselm Ranta | AeroNewsX

As African airlines continue to struggle through the extended lockdowns throughout the continent, Nigeria's largest airline Air Peace has now joined the calls for the Nigerian Government to offer financial support to the aviation sector, which has been hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

Air Peace was established as a private airline in 2013 in order to fill the large void left by the collapse of national carrier Air Nigeria (formerly Virgin Nigeria). From its headquarters in Nigeria's largest city Lagos, Air Peace has expanded to become the largest airline in Nigeria serving all major centres within Nigeria domestically, as well as extending its network to include other major centres throughout West Africa such as Dakar, Banjul, Accra and Freetown. In May 2019, the airline added its first widebody aircraft, an ex-Emirates Boeing 777-200ER, which it used to launch its first intercontinental route to Sharjah, one of the largest cities in the United Arab Emirates. Air Peace has since tripled its widebody fleet to three Boeing 777s, consisting of one Boeing 777-200ER and two Boeing 777-300s. Prior to the Coronavirus crisis. the aircraft were to serve intercontinental destinations such as New York and London from Lagos.

Nigeria's airlines including Air Peace have been particularly hard hit by the Coronavirus crisis due to the full lockdown and ongoing closure of the country's airports to all passenger traffic. This has further been compounded by the massive airport passenger service fees which airlines are required to pay in order to utilise the passenger terminals at airports throughout the country. Despite the airline industry being already crippled, the Nigerian government passed a bill to double the passenger service fees at Nigeria's airports to NGN2,000 for domestic flights and NGN38,800 for international flights, leaving the country's airlines in an even more dire situation. In response to the ongoing losses associated with the lockdown, Air Peace has been forced to dismiss 60% of its workforce and put most of its fleet of 23 aircraft into storage. This leaves only four of the airlines Boeing 737s and six of the airlines Embraer E145s in active service.

According to Air Peace CEO Allen Onyema, the airline has joined calls by other Nigerian airlines for a government bailout or support package to the country's airline industry. Mr. Onyema expressed outrage at the government's lack of support to the industry, which is a huge source of employment in the country, stating "Palliatives, bailouts, rollovers, or whatever we call them, are necessary. All over the world, the governments are giving bailouts to their airlines. Even the strongest of airlines have asked for them. What bothers us more at is Air Peace is the retention of the workforce." Mr. Onyema also stressed that more unnecessary dismissals of airline employees would only add to Nigeria's crime rates and that the government and airline industry must think of ways to curb losses.

However, the outlook for Nigeria's airlines has brightened with a new announcement by the government yesterday that Lagos and Abuja airports would resume operation on July 8th, followed by Kano, Port Harcourt, Owerri and Maiduguri airports on the 11th of July 2020. The remainder of the country's airports are scheduled to open on the 15th of July.

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