Efforts by the Federal Government to airlift stranded Nigerians in Canada has been dogged with controversies following disagreement among Ministries of Aviation and Foreign Affairs and the High Commission of Canada on the choice of carrier to be engaged in the exercise, The Nation has learnt.
The Nation reported that the Canadian High Comission was delaying the evacuation of Nigerians from the North American country by deferring flight rights for an indigenous carrier – Air Peace in covert moves to pave the way for Ethiopian Airlines, which has been positioned to operate the air lift at a higher fare.
The Federal Government last week designated Air Peace to operate the evacuation flight Nigerians stranded in Canada from Toronto and Calgary.
Informed source from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs disclosed the Canada High Commission opened talks with Ethiopia Airlines, which has been airlifting Canadian citizens from different parts of Africa to Canada to deny a Nigerian carrier the opportunity to airlift its citizens.
Irked over the subtle moves to pave the way for Ethiopian Airlines, the Ministries of Aviation and Foreign Affairs, investigations revealed are insisting the Nigerian carrier has to operate the flight in tandem with its new position that all evacuation flights must be conducted by Nigerian carriers.
A document sourced from the Canada High Commission directed that passengers should pay $2, 500 to Ethiopian Airlines while Air Peace charged $1, 134.
319 passengers have paid to the Nigerian airline, which has concluded plans to operate full flight to the North American country.
The directive from the Canada High Commission asked the would-be passengers to pay for Flight ET3900 from Lagos to Addis-Ababa that would depart from Lagos by 1:00 pm Nigerian time on May 18, 2020.
The directive asked the passengers to use the booking code: ”LOSYYZ,” valid only for May 15, 2020.
The delay in allowing Air Peace, an indigenous airline to conduct the evacuation flight, has upset officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other Nigerians who have been monitoring the proceedings since last week.
Some of the Nigerians, who have booked Air Peace for the flight, were already complaining about the insistence of the Canada High Commission to choose a foreign airline when a Nigerian carrier can carry out the evacuation exercise successfully, as it had done in the past.
Shocked at the decision of Canada High Commission, an official of the Nigerian carrier said that Air Peace has successfully flown to 40 countries, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, noting it was the airline that evacuated Israeli citizens from Nigeria late March.
“We have done many international flights, including landing in Canada. We have made 19 flights to the United States of America since 2014.
“We have flown to Tel-Aviv several times and in March we evacuated over 200 Israelis from Nigeria back during this COVID-19 lockdown.
“We have scheduled flight operations to United Arab Emirates. We have also flown to UK, Ireland, China, Turkey, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland and other countries
“We have IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification and we are member of IATA. We have also evacuated Nigerians from South Africa during the Xenophobia attack of Africans there. We are grateful to the Federal Government and the Ministry of Aviation for all the support it is giving Air Peace and other ingenious carriers,” the Air Peace official said.
Reacting to the incident, former Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Benedict Adeyileka, described the action of the Canada High Commission as political and urged the Federal Government to stand firmly on its position that a Nigerian carrier should conduct the airlift.
“I don’t agree with what is happening. It is very political and Ethiopian Airlines is playing a dangerous game. Ethiopian has new aircraft but it was Boeing 767 it deployed to airlift Nigerians from the US and some of the passengers complained, even as they paid higher fares to the airline. But Air Peace is deploying Boeing 777 for the evacuation.
“I am a nationalist to the core. Anything Nigerian is good enough as long as it is qualified to carry out the operation and Air Peace has international operation experience. I insist that the Nigerian government should put its foot down on this. Nigerian carriers should not be stopped from conducting international operations,” he said.