AMCON to float international airline with Arik, Aero planes - PUNCH
BY Oyetunji Abioye and Okechukwu Nnodim
The Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria has reached an advanced stage towards launching a multibillion naira airline by pooling together its aviation assets especially planes in debt-ridden Arik Air and Aerocontactors Airlines, findings by Sunday PUNCH have revealed.
The new international airline, to be named Nigeria Eagle, may take to the sky with at least 10 planes as early as June, according to insiders who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on the matter.
AMCON is expected to make an official statement on the deal very soon.
It was learnt that AMCON, a Federal Government-owned bad debt manager which owns controlling stakes in both Arik and Aero, chose to establish the new airline as a clever means of wriggling out of the multibillion naira liabilities currently hanging on the two carriers.
The debts are believed to be hindering new buyers from showing interest in the two carriers which AMCON has been willing to sell to new investors.
AMCON was established by the Federal Government in 2010 to buy over bad debts from commercial banks in order to save the banking system from imminent collapse. This followed the 2009 financial industry crisis in the country.
The bad debt manager has a mandate to recover bank loans from several companies whose bad debts had been bought over by AMCON.
AMCON took over the management of Arik and Aero some years back, following the two carriersâ€™ inability to continue servicing their debts running into several billions of naira.
Unconfirmed reports said AMCON had made failed attempts to sell the two airlines apparently due to their huge liabilities and likely litigation from the original owners.
The latest move by AMCON to pool its assets especially planes in the two carriers is expected to help the bad debt manager to recover its investment in the two carriers ahead of its winding down in 2023.
A top AMCON official familiar with the deal, who spoke with Sunday PUNCH on condition of anonymity, said, â€œWe are not trying to merge Arik and Aero. We are trying to strategically assemble all our aviation portfolios under one umbrella. The challenge of selling Aero is humongous. The challenge of Arik is even double. Our interest is not in the branding level, it is in our portfolio â€“ the money we invested over the years to protect these airlines.
â€œThe management gave us a strategy. The one we did with Bank of Industry. A lot of money was pumped into those airlines and that is why they are still standing till today. I am sure you heard when Ethiopian Airlines was rumoured to want to buy Arik.
â€œWhy you hear of a debt profile of close to N300bn, it is very scary. If you assemble all your assets under a fresh umbrella, dealing with the thing will be easy. That is what management is trying to do. Even the idea of merging the two airlines is difficult. That is what is going on.â€
Further findings by Sunday PUNCH revealed that the airline, might be launched probably by June.
According to aviation industry sources, AMCON has gone as far as 80 per cent of the steps it needs to take towards setting up the carrier.
A top official of AMCON also confirmed this, saying, â€œThe launch date for the airline depends on a lot of variables. You know there are a lot of certifications you need to do before you begin to fly. We have gone far but cannot tell you how far we have gone now. But we have covered 80 to 90 per cent of the journey.â€
Asked if the carrier could take to the sky before mid-year, the official said, â€œMost likely, but donâ€™t say I said this. The management will put out a statement when this happens. I have not been to a meeting where we have a targeted time.â€
Giving further insight on the proposed Nigerian Eagle, the official said, â€œApart from Arik and Aero, we have other aviation assets. We have something with Dana and Afrijet; there are a couple of aviation assets we have scattered here and there. These are what we want to assemble under one umbrella
â€œIt is not going to be a merger, it is like let us say you gave Company â€˜Aâ€™ about 20 buses to start a transport business on the condition that at the end of every year, it pays you N1bn. Now you decide to collect the entire money and assets and give it to Company â€˜Bâ€™ and ask it to run the business because it is more responsible than Company â€˜Aâ€™. That is why I said it is not going to be a merger but a strategic realignment of the portfolios.â€
However, there are concerns in the aviation industry that the original owners of Arik and Aero may take AMCON to court over the current move.
But another top official of AMCON allayed such fears.
He said, â€œThe thing is that we have over 3,000 cases in court. I donâ€™t think there is any institution that owes us serious money that is not in court with us. They have a strategy of delay; they keep delaying until they say AMCON has wound down and everybody will go and take their money. From day one of the takeover, they have been in court with us.
â€œThe Federal Government gave us the mandate to take over. Those hiding under the law to delay the debt recovery process will now circumvent those payments. The court cases for us are distractions, minor distractions and delay tactics. The question we often ask them is whether they borrowed this money or not. They say â€œYesâ€. Have you paid? They say â€œnoâ€. Then what is the issue? So, the court cases will always be there.
Industry sources have also raised concern on whether AMCON has the power to establish an airline.
But the official said, â€œThe challenge people do not completely understand is that the amended AMCON Act which the President signed into law last year gave us some powers that you can describe as unimaginable but those are the realistic ways of recovering this money.
â€œThat is what happened in Malaysia. In Malaysia, the government took it to a level that if you are a driver of a big man who is a debtor, you are not sure that that driver would not kill you because the driver believes that it is because of you that his country is not developing. It becomes a national crusade and that is why they recorded the successes. Those court cases will come but we are also waiting for them.
â€œThose powers are there in the Act because of these delay tactics. That is why the National Assembly went back to redraft the Act, amended it and gave AMCON these additional powers to trace the assets of anybody anywhere in the world. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, police, Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission will join and we will trace the asset without recourse to anybody.â€
Asked whether Nigerian Eagle may own up to 10 planes at inception, an AMCON official said, â€œIt may even be more.â€
Meanwhile, it was gathered that about two aircraft belonging to Arik Air had been repainted in the livery of Nigerian Eagle. The two planes, it was learnt, were being painted in Ethiopia.
Industry officials, however, told one of our correspondents that the aircraft had yet to be de-registered at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority as Arik Air assets.
â€œThey (AMCON) are still going ahead with the rebranding but they should wait for litigation coming from Arik. The owners of Arik will not lie low,â€ a source at the Ministry of Aviation, who pleaded not to be named due to the sensitive nature of the matter, said.
â€œI think two Arik aircraft have been repainted but they have not been de-registered yet. I think the problem will start when they write to NCAA for the de-registration of the aircraft,â€ the official added.
On claims that the immediate past Chief Executive Officer of Aero Contractors, Ado Sanusi, resigned from Aero to head AMCONâ€™s airline, the source said the claim was true.
The Aviation ministry official said, â€œCapt. Ado may be appointed to head the new airline by AMCON. His appointment in Aero was done by AMCON. AMCON has every right to send him to any place they want. He is their employee.â€
On what would happen to Arik and Aero when the new carrier eventually emerges, the ministry official replied, â€œThe owners will take back what remains of their airlines.â€
However, senior personnel at the Federal Ministry of Aviation were silent on the matter when contacted for official comments on the matter.
Asked to state the role of the Ministry of Aviation in the proposed airline by AMCON, the ministryâ€™s Director, Public Relations, James Odaudu, replied, â€œIâ€™m not aware of the ministryâ€™s involvement.â€
Industry sources however said the Aviation ministry would not be involved in the new airline, noting that AMCON would basically deal with the NCAA on the matter.
â€œAviation ministry does not have a hand in AMCON. They have no business with AMCON,â€ another Aviation ministry official who is familiar with the matter, said.
â€œAMCON does not have to deal with the ministry but with the NCAA. The NCAA is the regulator and so AMCON will just apply. It is when the corporation wants to import aircraft that it will apply for ministerial approval.
â€œAside from that, it does not have to seek anything else from the ministry. After all, AMCON has been involved in maritime, hotels, etc,â€ he added.
When contacted, the spokesperson for AMCON, Jude Nwauzor, confirmed to our correspondent that the corporation was floating an airline.
He declined to give further details, adding that the carrier would issue a statement on the matter very soon.
Meanwhile, some aviation experts have reacted to the development.
A former Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Captain Roland Iyayi, said AMCON was only devising means to recover its loans to the carriers.
He said, â€œIf a bank decides to call in its credit, what will happen is that they would have had an agreement with the debtor that if certain conditions are not met over a specific period of time, they would take certain actions. And those actions could lead to them calling in their credit.
â€œNow, if the debtor had signed up to that, there is very little that the courts can do in terms of changing that arrangement. In this case, the debts are very bad debts because I know clearly that Arik or Aero, neither of them can in any way earn enough to pay off their interest let alone the principal. So, as long as you keep the airline operating without them being able to meet up their obligations, you are postponing the doomsday.
â€œSo if AMCON based on whatever transaction they have, says that the best thing to do is to take out their assets from the two companies, it is like having a clean slate and hopefully have an airline that is devoid of debts.
â€œBecause for as long as the debts of those two companies are there, anything they earn will not cover their liabilities. So they have looked at the two companies and may have decided to set up an entirely new company.â€
Iyayi, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Top Brass Aviation, noted that there were some measures available to AMCON to effectively manage the situation.
Asked whether the move by AMCON was a right one, he replied, â€œAs I said, it depends on the transactional documents between AMCON and the debtors.
â€œThat document will indicate whether or not they have the powers to do what they are doing. If they do, then it will be a good proof and it might be very difficult to argue on the steps they are taking now.
â€œSo if the circumstances support them to be able to take those actions, then it might be useful.â€
He stated that there was a time AMCON nursed the idea of merging Aero and Arik to set up a national carrier but it was rejected by the aviation ministry.
He noted that the idea was to take the assets of Aero and Arik and set up a new company, so that the new carrier would have started with about 10 to 20 aircraft.
Also, aviation expert and Chief Executive Officer of Centurion Aviation Safety Company, Group Captain John Ojikutu, said AMCON ought to have taken the decision long before now.
He, however, said there was a need for AMCON to tell the public how much Arik and Aero owed the agency as well as its current stake in the two airlines.
Ojikutu, a former military commandant of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, said, â€œWe need more details. Why didnâ€™t they do this before now? A lot of things have happened in Arik. Arik is said to be owing about N300bn. How long will it take the carrier to pay it back? Assuming Arik is making N10bn profit every year which is not possible, it will take the airline about 30 years to pay off its debt. But like I said, AMCON needs to give us more information.â€
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Another industry expert and Publicity Secretary of Aviation Round Table, Olumide Ohunayo, felt the new airline might be greeted with long litigation process.
He said, â€œI was thinking that AMCON would have a holding company to merge Arik and Aero, using their areas of strength. One is good with the maintenance and the other has operational prowess by virtue of equipment and location.
â€œSo I was thinking that merging them through a holding company would be made to keep the airlines alive and also paying their debts. But what we are seeing now is a total emasculation of the airlines and using the assets of the initial investors to start a new carrier.â€
â€œNot just to be thrown out because we are looking at the pride of having a carrier owned by us. That is a wrong way to start such an airline.â€
Arik Air was founded in 2002 by its Chairman, Joseph Arumemi-Ikhide. In April 2006, Arik took occupation of some of the former Nigeria Airways facilities in Lagos.
In October 2006, seven months after taking occupation of some of the old Nigeria Airwaysâ€™ premises, Arik Air was inaugurated, opening its doors to the travelling public on 30 October 2006.
The airline grew its fleet size to over 22 planes and was travelling to over 16 destinations before it was taken over by AMCON in February 2017.
Arik flew to New York, London, South Africa, Dubai and other international destinations.
AMCON had explained that the airline was immersed in heavy financial debt burden that threatened to permanently ground the carrier.
During its peak, Arik carried about 55 per cent of the passenger load in the country.
According to Wikipedia, Aero Contractors was formed in 1959 and was officially registered in Nigeria in 1960.
The airline had a fleet size of seven aircraft and operates into 13 destinations.
Heathrow is busy with people fleeing UK ahead of new rules tomorrow - DAILY MAIL UK
BY Luke May
Travellers have started to flown into the UK as they try to beat a new Covid crackdown that begins at 4am tomorrow - with quarantine hotels and facial recognition technology lined up to ensure people isolate.
Arrivals could be seen hugging loved ones as they landed at Heathrow this afternoon, following a busy morning in the departures lounge.
Earlier today passengers were queuing in the departures lounge, as a travel consultant warned there were 'bumpy days ahead,' when new travel rules come into place.
Depatures were expected to be busier as business travellers fly-out on Sundays ahead of the working week.
More arrivals are expected later this evening after thousands flew in to the UK yesterday ahead of Monday's restrictions.
Travellers could be seen waiting for their results after taking tests inside Terminal 5.
Queues at Heathrow today come amid concerns that most UK arrivals are going unchecked for Covid compliance by Border Force.
MP David Morris told The Sun: 'We are past the stage of being able to trust people to isolate if the system is not being policed.
We should ramp up the fines or follow Australia's lead and take travellers straight to secure hotels.'
The Department for Transport has said tomorrow's measures will come alongside increased enforcement, both at the border and across the country.
Border Force is expected to increase the number of spot checks carried out on passengers arriving in the country.
Visitors will have to pay for the hotel stays themselves under the proposed plans.
Civil servants were told to study New Zealand's policy of 'directed isolation', reported the Sunday Times.
Arrivals are charged with stay at an airport hotel and forced to remain in isolation for two weeks in the country.
In Australia, travellers are charged between Â£1,500 and Â£2,500 for isolation hotel stays of between 14 and 24 days.
Civil servants also discussed Poland's 'enhanced isolation' system, in which people are contacted daily and told to send a picture of themselves where they are isolating.
The pictures are cross-referenced using GPS data and facial-recognition software and are visited by police within 20 minutes if they fail to comply.
Officials discussed the ideas at a meeting on Thursday and it is understood the technology would be confined to new arrivals, not anyone ordered to self-isolate in the UK.
The current regime announced on Friday in the UK means people arriving will still have to isolate for 10 days even if they have had a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours - or five if they have another negative result during that period.
The ban will be backed by tougher spot checks and will stay in place until at least February 15 as ministers and scientists work out how to manage the threat posed by mutations of the virus.
Yesterday it was revealed that 11 Britons have had one of the variants that have sprung up in Brazil - although it is not yet clear how much of a threat it poses.
Travellers from South America, Portugal, some of central America and South Africa are already barred from coming to the country.
Earlier, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the timing of the South America border ban amid complaints ministers have been 'behind the curve' responding to the threat of new Covid variants.
The ban also covers the Central American state of Panama and Portugal â€“ due to its strong travel links with Brazil â€“ and the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde.
It applies to everyone who has been in the area over the past 10 days - although UK and Irish nationals are exempt - and came into force at 4am.
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Scientists analysing the Brazilian variant believe the mutations it shares with the new South African strain are associated with a rapid increase in cases in locations where there have already been large outbreaks of the disease.
British and Irish nationals and others with residence rights are exempted from the measures that were backed by the Scottish and Welsh governments, though they must self-isolate for 10 days along with their households on their return.
Mr Shapps described the ban as a 'precautionary' measure to ensure the vaccination programme rolling out across the UK was not disrupted by new variants of the virus.
Asked if the Brazilian strain was currently in the country, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'Not as far as we are aware, I think, at this stage.
'There haven't been any flights that I can see from the last week from Brazil, for example.'
Nigerians Can Access 200 Percent More Countries with a Dominican Passport, says Dominican Prime Minister in Guardian Webinar - GLOBAL BANKING AND FINANCE
LONDON, Jan. 18, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — In a new webinar hosted by the Guardian Nigeria and CS Global Partners, the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica, Dr the Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit discussed the benefits of global mobility with a Dominican passport. To date, Dominica passport holders can travel to over 140 destinations across the world. The Prime Minister explained that increasing visa-free access is a high priority for the island and its Citizenship by Investment Unit.
He also explained that global mobility meant more business opportunities, as Dominican citizenship creates access to major business hubs in Europe and Asia. Moreover, he disclosed that negotiations for visa-free access to Dominica, [there] is about [a] two hundred percent difference. Even countries where you need to apply for visas, we have almost a hundred percent success rate,â€ he said.
â€œThere are huge attendant benefits for a Nigerian citizen also to be a citizen of Dominica, and we do urge many of you to proceed with haste to apply [to Dominica's Citizenship by Investment Programme],â€ he added.
Later, the Prime Minister emphasised that keeping locals and new citizens safe was also important. In the 2020 CBI Index published by the Financial Times' PWM magazine, Dominica scored perfectly in the due diligence category. â€œ[We have] various tiers of security, of due diligence, that we follow. We are second to none. In 2021, we will be moving away from the machine-readable passports to the biometric passports, so again, further increasing the security of our passport or security of our citizenship,â€ he said.
Established in 1993, Dominica's CBI Programme offers two stable routes to citizenship. One can either contribute at least US$100,000 to a government fund or invest a minimum of US$200,000 in pre-approved real estate. Foreign investors prefer Dominica for its three-month processing, affordability, trustworthiness, and lifetime benefits like good healthcare, education and visa-free travel.
Biden to block Trump's plan to lift COVID-19 European travel restrictions - REUTERS
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Joe Biden plans to quickly extend travel restrictions barring travel by most people who have recently been in much of Europe and Brazil soon after President Donald Trump lifted those requirements effective Jan. 26, a spokeswoman for Biden said.
Trump signed an order Monday lifting the restrictions he imposed early last year in response to the pandemic - a decision first reported Monday by Reuters - after winning support from coronavirus task force members and public health officials.
Soon after Trumpâ€™s order was made public, Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki tweeted â€œon the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.â€
She added that â€œWith the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel.â€
Until Biden acts, Trumpâ€™s order ends restrictions the same day that new COVID-19 test requirements take effect for all international visitors. Trump is due to leave office on Wednesday.
Last week, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed an order requiring nearly all air travelers to present a negative coronavirus test or proof of recovery from COVID-19 to enter the United States starting on Jan. 26.
The restrictions Trump rescinded have barred nearly all non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the 26 countries of the Schengen area in Europe that allow travel across open borders.
The U.S. restrictions barring most visitors from Europe have been in place since mid-March when Trump signed proclamations imposing them, while the Brazilian entry ban was imposed in May.Psaki added that â€œin fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.â€ The Biden transition did not immediately respond to a request to comment on if it planned to expand the countries covered.
Biden, once in office, has the legal authority to reimpose the restrictions.
Last Tuesday, Marty Cetron, director of CDCâ€™s global migration and quarantine division, told Reuters those entry bans were an â€œopening act strategyâ€ to address the virus spread and should now be â€œactively reconsidered.â€
Airlines had hoped the new testing requirements would clear the way for the administration to lift the restrictions that reduced travel from some European countries by 95% or more.
They had pressed senior White House officials about the issue in recent days.
Many administration officials for months argued the restrictions no longer made sense given most countries were not subject to the entry bans. Others have argued the United States should not drop entry bans since many European countries still block most U.S. citizens.
Reuters previously reported the White House was not considering lifting entry bans on most non-U.S. citizens who have recently been in China or Iran. Trump confirmed Monday he would not lift those.
Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Howard Goller and Nick Zieminski
New MMIA terminal to process 15m passengers yearly - THE NATION
By Kelvin Osa-Okunbor
The new Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) terminal in Lagos is to process over 12 million passengers when inaugurated for flight operations.
Managing Director, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Captain Hamisu Yadudu, said the new terminal would process 12 million passengers yearly while the 48, 000 square meters facility alongside the old terminal would process between 20 million and 30 million passengers yearly.
In an interview with The Nation, the pilot-turned airport manager said the new terminal will have 72 check â€“ in counters, five baggage collection carousels, 28 immigration desks at the arrival wing of the facility and 16 immigration desks at departure, eight security screening points and eight passengers boarding bridges plus remote boarding and arrival facilities.
He said the new terminal with strategically designed transit facilities will go a long way to easing the stress of passengers , airline personnel and other users of the facility.
â€œThe new international terminal billed for inauguration at the Lagos Airport is billed to achieve hub status for Nigeria in the West African sub-region. But, it should not be seen from the point of view of the timing when this facility is open. It has been work in progress, strategically primed to achieve that long dream of making Lagos Airport in hub for West Africa.
â€œThe terminal is about to be inaugurated, it has already established a connectivity with other terminals. To have a hub status, there must be connectivity. Besides, there is also a need to connect the two wings of the international wings with the domestic terminal. For any airport to qualify as a hub the issue of connectivity must be properly worked out.
â€œIt is easy to achieve hub status for a country like Nigeria. But, connectivity as a feature in hub pursuit must be in terms of passengers operations, personnel movement and bagage movement. It has to be full connectivity involving staffing issues to ease operations,â€ Yadudu said.
According to him, FAAN is working on processes that will make it easier for staffing, baggage and passenger operations.
He said FAAN already has designs submitted to it by prospective investors to assist in achieving connectivity for the Lagos Airport, which is an important part of achieving the hub pursuit by ensuring that the airport is ready in terms of all infrastructural needs, procedural needs to achieve the ambition of a hub.
He noted that having the second terminal has pushed Nigeria into almost seventy per cent of what is needed to achieve the status of a hub.
On efforts by the airport authority to integrate the new facility with multimodal transport infrastructure, Yadudu said discussions were ongoing with Lagos State Government to link the existing rail facility with the airport.
He noted that serious engagement with stakeholders , in particular, Lagos State Government to achieve this initiative is on going with fruitful benefits.
â€œWe have started work on this, hub status in terms of intermodal connections is beyond flight operations, we have to factor in movement of people from the city into the airport. And even from other cities into Lagos, there must be a mechanism to easily transit into the Lagos Airport , from wherever you are coming from to link you into and out of the airport.
â€œThere is a light design that the airport authority is studying , we are possibly looking at linking the rail from the Ikeja Bus Terminal into the Lagos Airport .The Lagos State Government has been very supportive of this project. Our team has been meeting with them to see it through,â€ Yadudu said.
According to him, the new terminals will have the latest technology that is possible, but not all that is available in the world.
â€œWe will have the technology that is critical, especially the ones having to do with the check in counters, fibre optic technology to take care of all communication needs , the common user terminal , but not ordinary communication cable that we will use in all the terminals.
â€œ Passenger comfort option is also there in terms of air conditioning system, charging ports attached to the seat at the terminal. Above all the agencies including Nigeria Immigration Service that will work in this terminal understand all we are doing to enhance passenger facilitation with the technologically driven facilities that will boost passenger security and safety,â€ Yadudu said.
Richard Branson hopes Covid vaccination passports will allow for easier air travel - CNBC
BY Kevin Stankiewicz
- â€œOnce vulnerable people, in particular, have been vaccinated, I think all kinds of businesses can start opening up again,â€ Sir Richard Branson told CNBC on Tuesday.
- Branson said he hopes Covid vaccination passports will allow people to bypass some travel mitigation measures, such as virus testing.
Sir Richard Branson told CNBC on Tuesday he hopes so-called Covid vaccination passports will be available for prospective airline passengers who have been inoculated, potentially allowing them to bypass other virus mitigation measures before traveling.
â€œVaccination is everything. Once vulnerable people, in particular, have been vaccinated, I think all kinds of businesses can start opening up again: restaurants, travel companies, cruise companies,â€ said Branson, who co-founded the airlines Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.
â€œHopefully there will be a proof-of-vaccination piece of paper that people can use to be able to get on a plane without having to be tested or without having to quarantine,â€ the British businessman added in an interview on â€œSquawk on the Street.â€
Bransonâ€™s comments come a week after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it would require airline passengers to show they recently tested negative for the coronavirus before flying to the country.
And on Monday, President-elect Joe Bidenâ€™s spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a tweet the incoming administration will keep in place an entry ban on most visitors from Europe, the U.K. and Brazil. That announcement came shortly after President Donald Trump said he would lift the travel restrictions.
Covid vaccination passports are a way for people to prove they have been inoculated against the disease, and some believe they can aid the economic recovery from the pandemic. A group backed by Microsoft and Oracle called the Vaccination Credential Initiative was recently launched. The coalition is working to develop a way for people to get an encrypted digital version of vaccination records, which could then be stored in a digital wallet of choice, such as the Apple Wallet or Google Pay.
â€œAs the world begins to recover from the pandemic, having electronic access to vaccination, testing, and other medical records will be vital to resuming travel and more,â€ Mike Sicilia, executive vice president of Oracleâ€™s Global Business Units, said in a press release about the initiative.
Airlines and the travel industry writ large have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Industry executives have consistently pointed to widespread Covid vaccinations as key to a robust recovery.
While air travel not at its pandemic-era lows, Branson said he believes there will be an uptick in the coming months as vaccinations continue to be rolled out. He complimented efforts across Great Britain to administer vaccinations, as well as Bidenâ€™s pledge to have 100 million Americans vaccinated in 100 days.
â€œI would hope in three or four months time, once most of the vulnerable people have been vaccinated, that we can start looking forward to late spring or summer beginning to get back to normality again,â€ Branson said.
Airlines groan over new protocol, restrictions in UK, U.S., others - THE GUARDIAN
Worried by its devastating impacts on passenger traffic and fighting chances of operators, airlines have expressed fresh concerns over the new safety protocol taking effect in some countries.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), said knee-jerk restrictions were doing more harm to the beleaguered aviation industry and frustrating recovery efforts.
The United States (U.S.) Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tuesday, issued a new order requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 for all air passengers arriving from a foreign country to the United States including its citizens and non-U.S. citizens. This order will become effective on January 26.
Similarly, British Airways has adjusted its COVID-19 protocol in conformity with the United Kingdom Governmentâ€™s COVD-19 new regime. Beginning from January 15, all inbound passengers travelling to England will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result, taken up to 72 hours prior to departure.
Nigeria recently reviewed its travel protocol. The review mandated all inbound passengers to seek and get travel permits from Nigeria before boarding flights coming into the country.
To enforce the protocol more than ever before, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), now fines airlines $3,500 for each passenger that defaults, among other sanctions.
Chief Executive Officer of IATA, representing 280 global airlines, Alexandre de Juniac, said the new restrictions could only make air travel more difficult for all parties, â€œand that is one of the reasons why the slow pace of progress in the crisis is so frustrating.â€
de Juniac said safety remains a priority for the industry, and they are working tirelessly with governments to keep flying safe and reduce the risk of COVID-19 importation via travel with the implementation of the ICAO CART recommendations proposals to replace quarantine with COVID-19 testing.
â€œWhile we still see airlines turning cash positive within the year, the near-term picture is bleak. Instead of a boost from the year-end holiday period, we got even more restrictions. Governments tightened borders in a knee-jerk response to a virus mutation. Canada, UK, Germany, Japan and others added testing to their COVID-19 measures without removing quarantine requirements. In other words, they have chosen policy measures that will shut down travel.
â€œThis approach tells us that these governments are not interested in managing a balanced approach to the risks of COVID-19. They appear to be aiming for a zero-COVID world. This is an impossible task that comes with severe consequences—the full extent of which it would be impossible to calculate. But, with this approach, we know for sure that the travel and tourism economy will not recover, jobs will continue to disappear, and the lockdownâ€™s toll on peopleâ€™s mental health will continue to grow—particularly on those who are separated from loved ones.â€
The CEO added that a more balanced public policy approach was needed—one that is based on testing as a replacement for quarantines so that the industry could begin addressing the severe side-effects of COVID-19 policies.
â€œScience tells us that travellers will not be a significant factor in community transmission if testing is used effectively. But most governments have tunnel-vision on quarantine and are not at all focused on finding ways to safely re-open borders—or alleviate the self-imposed economic and mental health hardships of the lockdowns.
â€œThere was some good news over the holidays. We continued to prepare for the day that governments are ready to open borders—with testing or with vaccinations. The first pilot of the IATA Travel Pass app was launched in partnership with Singapore Airlines on routes to Kuala Lumpur and to Jakarta. We are still on track for a full rollout of the app during the first quarter of this year.
â€œAviation is an important engine of our world and will play a critical role in lifting the world to recovery from COVID-19. Let us ensure it receives the support it needs to keep the worldâ€™s nations connected and united.
â€œThe support starts with consistent, well-reasoned, scientifically supported policies to manage the risks of COVID-19 and travel. That is the antithesis of what we witnessed over the holiday period. Our top priority for 2021 is to change that,â€ he said.
Dominica eyes more travels from Nigeria - PUNCH
by Joseph Olaoluwa
Nigerian applications for Dominica citizenship has increased the Head, Dominica Citizenship by Investment Unit, Emmanuel Nanthan, has said.
Nanthan made this comment in a webinar monitored by The Punch over the weekend, noting that the rise in applications is impressive.
He said, â€œWe have seen a lot of interest in the Nigerian market. We have seen several Nigerians applying for citizenship. More Nigerians are seeing the benefit of our programme. We are impressed with the interest and very confident that we will make a strong team together- Nigerian and Dominica.â€
He added, â€œWe offer a safe place to work from. We have very few COVID-19 cases and we have not had any deaths so far. We have single-digit cases and they are in quarantine. A few of Nigerians have already moved here. I must say that my agents are excited about Nigeria. There are more numbers from Nigeria and we are looking forward to a fruitful New Year as well as applications from other Africans.â€
Prime Minister of the island nation, Roosevelt Skerrit, said the citizenship by investment programme had proven to be a source of non-tax revenue for the country. He also noted that the programme helped the country survive the deadly Hurricane Maria in 2017 and COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
He said, â€œThis programme has been a lifeline for us amid external shocks. As we know the entire 2020, we grappled with COVID-19 and like every other country in the world, we are no exception.
â€œWe experienced a dramatic decrease in revenue and increase in expenditure, especially as regards to sustaining livelihoods, ensuring that everyone who were in jobs before the pandemic are employed to feed their families and pay their mortgages and rent. Also, we needed help in the management of COVID with testing, manpower and resources.â€
He added, â€œWe also had to provide for those in the vulnerable groups and ensure that they have the means of survival. In 2017, we were impacted by a Hurricane Maria that destroyed 226 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product.
â€œThe citizenship by investment proved to be a source of revenue in difficult times and normal times. We have used these proceeds to invest in manufacturing, tourism, health and infrastructure and housing amongst others. We have been able to use the revenue to reduce our external debt as well.â€
He said Dominica passport holders could travel to over 140 destinations across the world.
The prime minister also explained that the government was strengthening its visa-free access to more countries this year since funds have been allocated to the Foreign Ministry for that purpose.
Skerrit said he was eyeing 100 per cent free visa access to nations of the world.
Airfares fluctuate amid COVID-19 second wave - PUNCH
BY Joseph Olaoluwa
The cost of air tickets along several routes have reduced as business activities have resumed for the New Year, findings by The PUNCH have shown.
The decrease in the price regime was reflected by several carriers on flights for one-way trips from Lagos to Abuja.
Before now, the cost of flights ranged from N60,000 to over N100,000 last year due to rising insecurity in the country and cost of flight operations.
This is amidst the second wave of the COVID-19 virus in which the National Assembly and the Ministry of Aviation were considering banning flights from the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries with high rates of COVID-19.
Adeyemi, in a recent interview with The PUNCH, said the National Assembly and the Federal Government were concerned about the second wave of COVID-19.
He stated that the joint National Assembly Committees on Aviation, the Aviation Ministry and agencies in the sector had been holding regular meetings in the past few days on the matter.
He said the meetings were seriously discussing possible impacts of the proposed ban and other associated issues.
Adeyemi said, â€œWe are still trying to study the situation so as to know the appropriate steps to take. It is a very sad situation no doubt.
â€œThe National Assembly and the Aviation Ministry are looking at what really should be done on the call to ban some of the flights coming in, not only from the United Kingdom, but also other countries where the pandemic spreads are more severe.
â€œThe National Assembly Joint Committee on Aviation is discussing with the Ministry of Aviation and we are looking at what can be done and the right steps to be taken.â€
Findings by our correspondent showed that Arik Air recorded N38,384 for economy tickets sold at 10:30 am on Tuesday, according to checks by our correspondent. Also, flights for Thursday to Friday were in the region N27,592 for economy flights.
For Azman, passengers were expected to cough out between N40,540 for economy tickets for flights at 10:30 am on Tuesday. Flights for Thursday to Sunday continued to fluctuate between N35,000 and N33,000 for economy passengers
Dana Air was not left out as prices were set at N34, 285 for an 11:15 am flight on Tuesday on economy discount. Prices for the rest of the week for the same package stabilised at N26,185.
Prices on Air Peace ranged from N35,700 for economy flexi for 7:10 pm on Tuesday while prices continued to fluctuate between N29,900 and N27,500 for the rest of the week.
Operators, however, expressed that the dip in prices is due to market forces.
The Public Relations and Communications Manager for Arik Air, Banji Ola said fares were down since passengers no longer had to pay Value Added Tax.
He said, â€œWell, VAT has been removed from the tickets and then market forces is also responsible for the change.â€
The spokesman for Dana Air, Mr Kingsley Ezenwa noted that widespread clamour over fares last year made the airline reconsider its prices.
He said, â€œIt is the law of demand and supply that applies in the aviation industry. It is not as if the fares went up. Like I told you before it is a progressive fare regime and depends on when you book.
â€œAlso, the fares have always been low, we also looked at the clamour for the prices to come down and we decided to balance it up. The rule still remains; when your book matters a whole lot.
Ezenwa advised air passengers to plan their trip and book early enough. He noted that nothing has changed. He also added that aircraft for the airline was back on all their routes, adding that load factor was 70 per cent and never dropped.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, air passengers paid more for specified routes on a single journey, month-on-month and year-on-year in November.
The average fare paid by travellers increased by 0.13 per cent month-on-month and by 18.47 per cent year-on-year to N36,301.74 in November 2020 from N36,256.08 in October.
These are according to the Transport Fare Watch data for November provided by the statistics office.
Similarly, air travellers were prevented from paying VAT in their commercial flight tickets, effective January 1, 2021, by the Federal Government.
A tweet by the Head of Tax, PricewaterhouseCoopers Nigeria, Mr Taiwo Oyedele on January 6, 2021, said the VAT removal part of the dictates of the 2020 Finance Act. The tax expert argued that this new development should see airfares decrease.
Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association has expressed worries with a drop in global passenger traffic growth as well as African airlinesâ€™ whose traffic sank 76.7 per cent in November, from a 77.2 per cent drop in October.
Why flights to Europe might get more expensive - YAHOO FINANCE
BY Ethan Wolff-MannSenior Writer
Low-cost long-haul airlines were already in financial trouble before the coronavirus pandemic hit about a year ago. Primera and Wow Air had gone out of business in 2018 and 2019, respectively, and Norwegian Air had long been struggling.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected the travel industry â€“ leisure and hospitality jobs cratered in March with only some recovery since then. And this week Norwegian Air announced it would cease operating long-haul flights.
â€œDue to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the aviation industry, including ongoing travel restrictions and changing government advice,â€ the airline wrote, â€œNorwegian has made the difficult decision to discontinue the operation of its long-haul flights.â€
You may never have flown Norwegian, but you owe a lot to them if youâ€™ve flown transatlantic, Scott Keyes, founder of Scottâ€™s Cheap Flights, told Yahoo Finance.
â€œEven if you never fly budget airlines, you owe a huge debt of gratitude for the impact they had on bringing down airfare for all carriers — not just budget,â€ said Keyes. â€œThis is one of the main reasons why the ball got rolling on the â€˜Golden Age of Cheap Flights.â€™â€
The airline industry is famously competitive and that competition affects pricing to a degree typically not seen for consumer-oriented goods and services. The most important factor for determining ticket prices is what competitors are charging, Keyes said. And for most consumers, thereâ€™s nothing more important than pricing — something Norwegian capitalized on with fares sometimes as low as $300.
With the pandemic dealing the already profit-troubled long-haul service its coup de grÃ¢ce, significant downward pressure is removed for other carriers who otherwise might have had to lower their prices to stay competitive — a bad development for any budget-minded traveler.
Before Norwegianâ€™s long-haul entrance pushed prices down in 2014, Keyes said, transatlantic round-trip flights often cost around $1,000. Fortunately for travelers, prices for long flights wonâ€™t likely return to a pre-Norwegian model.
â€œI donâ€™t want to be pollyannaish,â€ said Keyes. â€œThis isnâ€™t a good development for the cheap flight lovers of the world, but I donâ€™t want to overstate and say, â€˜itâ€™s going to go back to what it was before 2014.â€™â€
Instead, the way forth is more nuanced with average transatlantic fares rising perhaps $100 to $150.
â€œI would not say the golden age of cheap flights is over,â€ he said. â€œThere will still be $300 flights to Europe, but maybe less often, and maybe more $1,000 fares due to less downward pressure.â€
According to aviation analyst Robert W. Mann, long-haul international flights will still be â€œcheapâ€ even without Norwegian due to the pandemic suppressing demand, at least for the near term.
The future of â€˜budgetâ€™ long-haul travel
In the past, airlines relied heavily on economy fares, but today with credit card and points partnerships, cargo and logistical mastery, and business travel, economy fares are just one tool.
Theyâ€™re making so much off these other factors, Keyes said, that the economy seats are almost like â€œgas moneyâ€ for some airlines. Furthermore, he added, before low cost airlines like Norwegian came on the scene, the basic economy category wasnâ€™t widespread — Delta started it in 2012. The big airlines added that category to compete with the upstarts.
â€œLegacy [airlines] have adopted basic economy business — all airlines are budget airlines,â€ he said. â€œThereâ€™s not a huge distinction.â€
This, combined with the fact that low fares have turned out to be useful loyalty and marketing tools to draw and keep passengers, means â€œcheapâ€ flights may still have a future.
Another potentially bullish factor is that while successful budget carriers havenâ€™t gone after long-haul, theyâ€™ve done more and more medium-haul travel as planes get more efficient.
This is a good sign, but according to Mann, most of the efficiencies associated with ultra-low cost carrier short- and medium-haul regional travel â€œevaporates on long-hauls, especially international/intercontinental hauls, where formalities and full refueling drive lengthy turn times.â€
â€œThe long-haul, low-fare ultra-low cost carrier model has never really proven itself, and not only on the Atlantic,â€ Mann added.
On top of that, the fact that RyanAir and other budget carriers with total mastery of the short- and medium-haul business have not dipped their toes in long-haul is another warning sign for more budget airlines looking to offer longer flights.
Though Keyes and Mann are pessimistic about the budget long-haul business model, there is one wildcard. The history of aviation is populated by volatile and visionary personalities, from Southwest's Herb Kelleher to RyanAir's Michael O'Leary, to Virgin's Richard Branson to Norwegian's BjÃ¸rn Kjos. Thereâ€™s an allure in the business that allows for a brave soul with a touch of hubris to change the game.
â€œItâ€™s not likely or possible, but Elon Musk could decide that he wants to light one-thousandth of his personal wealth on fire to create a low-cost way to travel long distances and that could eat up a ton of market share,â€ said Keyes. â€œThe airline industry has largely been pushed forward by visionaries even if some concede in doing so, they might be turning their billionaire status into millionaire status. But thatâ€™s kind of the double-edged nature of being a visionary.â€
If a â€œnew Norwegianâ€ were to come along to disrupt, donâ€™t expect that to be anytime soon, Mann said.
â€œIt will be a few years hence until airfares climb back up to four digits in summer, which is historically the point at which new entrants start to think of joining the fray,â€ he said.