Air Peace, a popular Nigerian airline, has responded to a letter by the General Civil Aviation Authority of the United Arab Emirates to Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, over its operation in the Arabian country.
Air Peace said that contrary to the claim of the GCAA that it had been given a slot in Dubai, the airline had never flown to the Dubai International Airport.
UAE's Minister of Economy, who also doubles as Chairman of the GCAA, Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri, had in the letter to Sirika described the reduction of Emirates’ flights to one from 21 by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority as unjust and sought the intervention of the Minister of Aviation.
Al Marri said the issue that led to the withdrawal of Emirates’ schedule was an operational one between Air Peace and Sharjah Airport and had nothing to do with Emirates.
But in a counter letter to Sirika, Air Peace described the position of the UAE minister as “misinformed".
The letter signed by the Chief Operating Officer of the airline, Oluwatoyin Olajide, read in part, "We take very serious exception to that letter. We believe that the minister and Chairman of the Board of the GCAA may have been misinformed of the true position of the issues in discourse as no one in such an exalted position and office would deliberately push out such untrue statement.
“He has our respect, but his letter has misinformed the public about the real facts against us. We do not see what wrong Air Peace has done in this whole saga. We are the ones being wronged and now we are being attacked from a quarter we least expected. Facts don’t lie. In aviation, there are things one cannot lie about.
“Operating into and out of an airport is one of them. When did such flight operations occur? Which slot did we operate? For an airline to conduct scheduled operations into and out of an airport, there are agreements signed with several parties, executed, and implemented.
“There is need for the authority to provide the ground handling company that handled the scheduled operations in Dubai Airport (DXB) for Air Peace. Air Peace has only operated flights into Sharjah Airport alone.
“Sir, Air Peace has never been given slots at the Dubai International Airport. Slot availability was used to deny us operating from that popular airport as it was our first choice. It was the politics of slot unavailability that did not allow us to operate into Dubai Airport directly. The lack of flight slot angle forced us to approach the Sharjah Airport as a last resort.
“We were welcomed by the government and people of Sharjah. While we were denied slots in their most important airport, the Dubai Airport, Emirates has always enjoyed red carpet treatment in Nigeria where they were given our most important airports -- Lagos and Abuja – where they operate a total of 21 flights weekly.
“We only asked for three flights weekly at the Sharjah Airport and we got same and started operations on the 5th of July, 2019 until COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020.
“Contrary to the letter, Air Peace never ceased operating from Sharjah International Airport since we started in July 2019. We only stopped when every other airline was forced to stop normal scheduled flight operations as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns that permitted only evacuation flights.
”We did several evacuation flights out of Sharjah. So, we never left Sharjah Airport nor did we at any time “shifted” and operated out of DXB (Dubai Airport). The letter deliberately painted us as unserious while at the same time, suggesting that we look for other airports in the country to operate from.
“After the restriction of scheduled flight operations between UAE and Nigeria was lifted towards the last week in November 2021, we approached the Sharjah Airport and GCAA with a request to allow us to operate a charter into the UAE on December 01, 2021.
“To our surprise and despite the lifting of the ban on flight operations between both countries, they refused. They said they would not allow charter but scheduled flight operations.
“However, we then, in obedience to their demand, announced resumption of scheduled operations beginning from that date and we opened our sales to the public.
“Three days to departure, they were yet to approve the flight. They came back 48 hours to our expected departure to UAE denying us slot to operate the flight. When we pressed on, they told us that they would accept us only if we did not bring a wide body aircraft but a small one. We had 250 passengers to transport and using a small aircraft as they suggested was impossible.
“It took your intervention and that of the Presidency before they approved that we come in on the said December 1st but not without another unfair order. We were told that we must land at 9.00 a.m their time, not before 9.00 am and not after 9.00am. Unbelievable! On our request to continue with the scheduled operations after this present flight, we were turned down using lack of slot as excuse.
“Meanwhile, Emirates had started operating three flights daily into Nigeria while Air Peace was totally turned down.
“You would recall that you mounted serious pressures on them urging them to see reasons, but they never bulged. Then, at your threat of going to stop them if Air Peace was not allowed a meagre three flights weekly, they quickly did the unthinkable. They gave us one flight only per week.
“They also added that it must be operated only Thursdays at a time that they chose themselves. No one would patronise an airline doing only one flight a week to a destination where one has the option of another airline doing 21 flights a week to the same destination. This is not about Air Peace alone but about our dear country Nigeria that has been massively disrespected by these intrigues.
“We reiterate that there was never a time did we ever operate at Sharjah and stopped, shifted to Dubai Airport, then returned to Sharjah again as the letter stated.
“Honourable minister, we deserve and demand a retraction and an unreserved apology from the author of that letter. We do not want to join issues in the public space with them as it is unhelpful to both countries. To this end therefore and, for the fact that this falsehood contained in the said letter has painted us in bad light and gone viral, even though the UAE Minister of Economy may have been misinformed by his aides, we, still, and humbly demand a retraction of the offending accusation of “stopping, shifting and returning” and an unreserved apology tendered to Air Peace.”