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Cablegate: Nigeria: Clear Skies Ahead for World Airways?

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 000576

SIPDIS


DOT FOR MCDERMOTT, SZABAT, AND SAMPLE


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR ECON PREL PGOV NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: CLEAR SKIES AHEAD FOR WORLD AIRWAYS?

REFS: (A) ABUJA 507
(B) ABUJA 337
(C) STATE 55416
(D) STATE 51785


Contains Proprietary Information. Please Protect Accordingly.


1. (SBU) Summary: World Airways' troubles securing landing rights from
the Ministry of Aviation for charter service between Lagos, New York,
and Atlanta could soon be over. On March 21, Minister of Aviation Kema
Chikwe signed a memo approving World Airways' application and forwarded
it to President Obasanjo, who will likely send it to Nigeria's Federal
Executive Council (FEC) during the next few weeks for final approval.
The Ministry's assent followed a March 19 meeting between Chikwe,
Ambassador Jeter, and World Airways Station Manager Pat Munson to
determine the status of World Airways' application. After chiding the
airline for not approaching her directly about the charter
service, the Minister said she would expedite the process. Chikwe's
decision to approve the application came after nearly two months of USG
insistence that the Ministry of Aviation respect Nigeria's bilateral
commitment with the United States and grant World Airways' landing righ
End Summary.


2. (SBU) On March 21, Chikwe informed the Ambassador that she had
signed a memo approving World Airways' application to operate air
service between the United States and Nigeria and had forwarded it to
the President for likely FEC consideration and final approval
during the next few weeks. This followed a March 19 meeting between
Ambassador Jeter, Minister Chikwe, and World Airways' Station
ManagerPat Munson. After several unsuccessful attempts World Airways
finally had a chance during the meeting to formally introduce itself to
Chikwe and to assuage the Minister's concerns. Chikwe said the airline
had only itself to blame for the delay in approval, as World Airways
should have approached her before beginning advertising service. Munso
apologized and sought guidance on the correct procedure to follow. The
Minister accepted Munson's apology and said she would do all she could
to expedite World Airways' application.


---------------
Background
---------------


3. (SBU) In January 2003, World Airways, a licensed U.S. carrier,
filed a request with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and
the Ministry of Transportation to operate a charter flight between the
United States and Nigeria. The USG had granted World Airways worldwide
charter authority; in addition, the USG had authorized the touroperator
RiteTime Aviation and Travel Services, to market the service.
By letter dated February 4, the GON's Ministry of Aviation acknowledged
that it was considering World Airways' application. The Ministry of
Aviation nonetheless asked USDOT to confirm that World Airways was a
"dependable" airline and not a front for Nigerians in the United States


4. (SBU) According to DOT officials, bilateral partners, such as
Nigeria, customarily accept USG designation as sufficient evidence to
approve service under the Open Skies Agreement. The DOT, nonetheless,
provided a letter to the Ministry in late February stating that World
Airways is "fit, willing and able" to provide air transport. Despite
repeated attempts by Post to arrange a meeting between Minister Chikwe
and World Airways in late February and early March, the Minister was
unavailable (often campaigning with the President), and the
Ministry of Aviation was also unable to provide information to the
Embassy or World Airways concerning the application process. The
Ambassador then met with President Obasanjo on March 7 to discuss
World Airways' approval request. During the meeting, Obasanjo said the
solution to the problem was for World Airways to find another tour oper
(Comment. Based on our conversations with World Airways officials over
last two months, without RiteTime, World Airways will not fly to Nigeri
End Comment.)


--------------------------------------------- -----
More Background: DOT and Post Efforts
--------------------------------------------- -----


5. (SBU) During a March 11 meeting with Ambassador Jeter and visiting
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation Joel Szabat, DAS Szabat
and Jeter expressed concern over the Ministry's delay in approving
World Airways service, which under the current Open Skies
agreement should be granted with "minimum procedural delay." Szabat
stressed that the USG had fulfilled its obligation by designating World
Airways an approved carrier. (The Notice of Designation was transmitte
via Diplomatic Note in August 2001, then again as a courtesy in
February 2003.)


6. (SBU) DAS Szabat reminded the Minister about the importance of
faithfully honoring the bilateral air agreement and encouraged Chikwe
to set a good precedent for other U.S. carriers potentially interested
in beginning direct service to Nigeria. Should World Airways face too
many difficulties in securing landing rights, he said, other U.S.
carriers would not look favorably on doing business in Nigeria.
Kevin Sample, Senior Advisor DOT, reminded the Minister that USG
approval of the now suspended Nigeria Airways wet lease agreement with
Atlanta Icelandic had taken less than 24 hours.


7. (SBU) During the March 11 meeting, the Minister complained about
World Airways' alleged procedural failings. She criticized World Airwa
for not notifying the Ministry before the airline began
advertising the new service. According to the Minister, the airline
should have approached her in person with the appropriate paperwork
before going public and advertising the service. Minister Chikwe also
questioned World Airways' choice of business partner, Peter Obafemi,
whose company is responsible for advertising and selling tickets.
Obafemi had been involved in a failed deal with the National Aircraft
Maintenance Project, which publicly embarrassed the Minister. Szabat
reminded the Minister that the question about the ticketing agent was
in no way related to the issue of Nigeria's respect of its bilateral
commitment to the USG.


8. (SBU) The Minister next tried to link its approval of World Airways
with Nigeria's attainment of Category I status. This FAA top safety
ranking, which reflects international standards, would allow Nigeria to
fly its planes and crews to the United States. Chikwe said she would
find it much easier to approve World Airways after Nigeria obtained
Category I status. Both Szabat and the Ambassador made clear that the
two issues cannot be linked, as approval of air carriers falls under
our bilateral agreement whereas the Category I standing depends on
Nigeria's ability to pass an international aviation safety assessment.


9. (SBU) By the end of the March 11 meeting, Chikwe, although upset,
said she still supported the deal and would put the issue before the
Federal Executive Council after she received a recommendation from the
NCAA and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).


------------
Comment
------------


10. (SBU) Now that the Minister has met World Airways staff and vented
her frustration, approval of the airline's request should become a
reality. However, considering her past attempts to delay the deal, she
may not be willing to admit defeat so easily. Her personal grudge
against World Airways' ticketing agent, Peter Obafemi, remains a proble
although she assured the Ambassador that the two had
reconciled. Chikwe's animosity towards Obafemi is compounded by her
unfamiliarity with World Airways, which led her to suspect the
deal waspossibly another swindle.


JETER

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