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Air Peace Receives UK Flight Permits

Air Peace may have received UK flight permits, but there are other challenges

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Nigeria’s biggest airline, Air Peace, is celebrating earning its Foreign Carrier Operator Permit (FCOP) from the United Kingdom’s Civil Air Authority (CAA). This permit allows airlines from other regions to fly into the UK, and was only able to be applied for after the airline successfully obtained its Third Country Operator Permit (TCO-UK). CEO of Air Peace, Alan Onyema, shared with local media outlet BusinessDay that,

“We obtained these permits that qualify us to fly to UK. Before you obtain these approvals, they will audit you very well. You have to go through a stringent audit, which we passed. We obtained the permit last week.”

However, obtaining the permits fulfills only one requirement for providing international service. Air Peace still has several challenges to overcome before its UK flights become a reality.

For Onyema, access to Heathrow Airport via slots to fly in to park an airplane to transfer passengers and freight before departing is a must. As Onyema put affairs,

“It took seven years for them to come and do the audit and you don’t blame them. Now we have got the approval. The next thing is slot and they are telling us to go to Stansted or take Gatwick. I’m not going to Stansted or Gatwick. You come to the primary airport in Nigeria… you enjoy the two primary airports. So, you will give me your own primary airport. It must be Heathrow or nothing. We waited seven years and we must be there.”

However, the matter is not as simple as flag carrier reciprocity. For instance, Heathrow slots are in high demand, and such slots are appropriated based on a bidding process and not geopolitical relations. Some forfeited slots are prioritized for new entrants each season, but to get the frequency Air Peace needs to facilitate a regular Heathrow service, it would have to be very lucky indeed.

According to a Head for Points analysis, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have 56.09% of the slots at Heathrow, with other global airlines holding the remaining 43.96% – neither easyJet nor Ryanair flies out of the airport. But Heathrow slots are in high demand – and the airport is rebounding well from the COVID-19 pandemic-induced slowdown.

Additionally, Simple Flying Managing Editor Jo Bailey and Content Manager Tom Boon suggested on the September 29 Simple Flying podcast that Air Peace should be looking at London’s Gatwick Airport for multiple reasons – not least of which is the odds of getting a Heathrow slot are “pretty slim.” It is worth adding that Gatwick Airport has flights to over 220 destinations throughout the world, as well as strong public transit connections to downtown London, so servicing Gatwick Airport would not be a loss for Air Peace.

Nigerian newspaper The Nation reported Onyema is also grousing about the lack of transit facilities for passengers who are only in Nigeria to make a connecting flight at both the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (DNAA), Abuja. Onyema wants MMIA in Lagos to have a transit facility, and believes this will make Air Peace more marketable.

For Nigerian airlines to compete and benefit from the Single Air Transport Market (SAATAM), we must upgrade our airports to include transit facilities, and immigration should adopt a new policy that recognizes transit passengers.

This situation keeps Air Peace from being able to fully utilize its inbound aircraft orders, which include the Boeing 737 MAX 8, plus Embraer E195-E2 and E175 models. The Embraer jets are intended to efficiently service routes with long distances but small demand.

Additionally, Air Peace lacks a maintenance facility for its aircraft, which puts the fleet at high risk of being stranded. A check of the ch-aviation database on November 5 shows 15 aircraft active with 14 inactive – equally split between being stored or in maintenance.

Finally, Air Peace is not immune from the problems of doing business in Nigeria. Sadly, in September, the Nigerian Central Bank withheld millions in funds from the airline.

Air Peace has overcome some of the hurdles between its London ambitions and its launch, but there is still some way to go.

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