Fake entry visas carried by Nigerians travelling to Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, has cost an African carrier, RwandAir, a penalty in excess of $20 million (N8 billion) in the last six months.
The fake visas, coupled with fictitious online bookings, are considered as infractions that warrant penalty by international aviation rules guiding the Global Distribution System (GDS), and borne by the conveying airline.
A GDS is a network operated by a company that enables automated transactions between travel service providers (mainly airlines, hotels and car rental companies) and travel agencies. Multiple reservations also attract multiple charges against the airline.
For every passenger that arrives in Dubai without valid visa or forged papers and ultimately turned back at the port of entry, the airline pays a penalty of $30,000 (N1.2million) for the Advance Debit Memo (ADM) issued per passenger.
Also, the airline is considering the withdrawal of its new Airbus 330-200 that was recently deployed to the Lagos route over low patronage, as recession is making it difficult to fill the 240-passenger capacity aircraft.
Recall that the Kigali-based airline is one of the foreign carriers making waves on the continent, with heavy reliance on Nigeria for its market. With Nigeria supplying the lion share of its total passenger supply for 2015, the airline had deployed two new A330-200s to the Lagos routes.
Plans were in the offing to bring in the third aircraft this December for the passengers heading to China, India and other countries.A Sales Executive of RwandAir, Henry Aaron, said it was regrettable that the airline had paid $20 million from July till date for the mistakes the airline knows nothing about.
Aaron said the penalty imposed on the airline was due to the “smart activities” of its passengers and their cohorts in Dubai, who are playing all gimmicks to outwit the airline’s clearance to board.
Aaron explained that there are some “smart guys” in Dubai processing working visas for wiling Nigerians. At the point of booking, the visas are genuine, but would have been cancelled from the system and become fake before the passenger reached Dubai airport.
“It is a smart move. Once it is cancelled, the person has no way of entering. As an airline that has carried the passenger on a one-way ticket, for every case like that, we are charged $30,000 for each passenger. I also have to fly the person back to Nigeria for free. That is the problem,” he said.
While the problem is not peculiar to RwandAir, the airline is having more of the effect as a foreign airline and co-competitor on the UAE market.Emirates and other UAE airlines also face similar problems, although at minimal rates, but as home grown airlines, they will always find their way around without paying penalties.
Aaron added that the airline even introduced an Okay-To-Board clause to curb the challenge, but Nigerians still found their way around it. “Okay-To-Board issue simply means that we collect your visa and working permits 48 hours before you board and present them to your employer in Dubai to okay before we allow you board. It is working but our Nigerian guys are so good.
“What they do is that they would look for someone in the organisation, tip the person to issue and monitor the permit without the knowledge of the employer. Some hours before the plane is due to arrive; they would extract the permit and cancel the visa. It becomes a problem for us and we are paying heavily for it,” he said.
The Guardian learnt that the airline, in the last five years of operations in Nigeria, had been having the problem, which escalated this year.The National President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bankole Bernard, said that the challenges faced by RwandAir were unfortunate, but would be addressed when travel agencies and airlines cooperated.
Aaron disclosed that the airline had suffered a lot of losses in the last few months paying ADM to the GDS. “At the end of the day, we don’t really have profit to take home just because we are paying for errors not made by us but by our travel partners that are making the mistake ignorantly. Between July and October, we have been paying close to $20million to various GDSs as penalties,” adding that profit margin in aviation is very slim, as at the best of time, it ranges between four and six per cent.
To cut down on the losses, he said that the airline is introducing $5 (N2000) on each segment of its online bookings. Lagos-Dubai return ticket for instance, that is, Lagos-Kigali, Kigali-Dubai, Dubai-Kigali and Kagali-Lagos, will all attract $20 (N8000).