…accuses Agency of inneficiency
By Sade Williams
The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), on Friday, called on service providers to ‘tread cautiously in its recent move to recover what can be described as phantom debts from domestic airlines in order not to run them out of business as they have also run many airlines out of business in the past from ridiculous billing’.
The Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) had recently threatened to ground the airlines’ operations over alleged refusal to pay their debts.
Chairman of AON, Captain NogieMeggison in a statement, said: “We strongly decry the ongoingaction by the various government agencies in the aviation sector whereby they threaten to deny airlines services for their operations or completely ground them as this is likely to force airlines out of business.”
He noted further that; “Because of the economic hard times of today airlines have become a soft target and are seen as a cash cow for everyone else to prey on easily. However, the agencies need to realize that air transport is the engine of the economy. Hence, if they disturb Nigerian airlines then they will damage the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari to restore the economy.”
He said without the airlines there is no aviation in the first place, adding that it is because of the airlines that airports are built and managed by FAAN, for instance.
He added that it is because of the airlines that an agency like NAMA exists to provide navigational services, explaining that thhe airlines also are the reason why we have catering companies, ground services providers, fuel marketers and other ancillary service providers in and around the airport.
“Airlines work tirelessly to airlift Nigerians safely around the country.They are the bedrock of the oil and gas sector on which Nigeria depends a great deal, as well as promote the smooth, expeditious and efficient delivery of goods and services daily thereby facilitating businesses that are critical to the economic recovery of Nigeria.
“Ahe airlines thereby provide jobs for all and sundry. And this means everybody else in the industry is making profit and surviving out of the airlines that are perpetually being undermined and milked dry on daily basis. And on top of all this, airlines still have to pay multiple charges and double taxationof all kinds to various government organs and are forced to pay for several inefficienciesand in some cases for services that are not provided without value for money and with no one coming to their aid.
“This kind of cruel hostility has stifled airlines in the past and is one of the issues responsible for many Nigerian airlines going out of business in the past twenty years including the likes of Triax, Sosoliso, Air Nigeria,Premium Air Shuttle, Gas, Okada, Sahara, Oriental, Chanchangi, Savanah, Harco, Harka, Holtrade, Intercontinental, Skyline, Easylink, Chrome Air, Fresh Air, ADC, EAS, Virgin Nigeria etc.
“Majority of these phantom debts are owed by airlines that are dead. Only airlines that are in operations can pay debts. If you deny services to the airlines how do you expect them to operate and make money to pay up their bills in the first place? There are better ways of doing things. Instead of forcing the airlines out of business by denying them access to fly or employing crude arm-twisting tactics,the agencies should be working closely with the airlines to reduce costs and make their operations more efficient”, he said.
Meggison said for instance, in its bid to make Accra a hub for aviation in the world, the Ghanaian government recently announced a cut in the price of aviation fuel by 20 per centselling today at N110 equivalent, asking: Even if both countries are importing Aviation Fuel, why is Nigeria selling at N200 per litre as against Ghana at N110?
“But in Nigeria the opposite is the case. Rather than assist domestic airlines to bring down the price of Jet A1 and make it more available, the price has skyrocketed consistently from N105 in March to over N200 today thereby significantly raising the cost of operations to unbearable proportions in spite of our constant calls over the years for action in this regard.
“Everyone knows that fuel alone accounts for about 40% of the operational cost of most airlines. And with the continuous increase in the price of Jet A1 amidst the scarcity and epileptic supply of the product,the operational costs of domestic airlines have further grown astronomically thereby leading to about 50% flight delays and cancellations of scheduled flights for a day.
“Because of the inefficiencies of the agencies, they have killed several airlines and are trying to stifle the few surviving ones to pay for their inefficiencies. For example, the purported N30 Billion NAMA bills are two separate debts namely; that before the Supreme Court judgment and that after the Supreme Court judgment. Moreover, most airlines that existed before the Supreme Court judgment are no longer in operation”, he added.
He said there is also the need for a consideration of the fact that a former Minister, Mrs. Fidelia Njeze, had intervened and canceled the pre judgment bills with respect to navigational and enroute charges which is on record both with the Federal Ministry of Aviation and NAMA that it should be written off because the services were not provided.
He noted that, ‘domestic airlines worldwide do not pay enroute charges; so, why Nigeria? Also, the total radar coverage and enroute navigation were not in operation in 2001 and airlines were mandated by the NCAA to use GPS for navigation which was independent of NAMA.
“The current economic downturn being experienced in the country will cripple any airline that is expected to pay the already cancelled debts. However, the few surviving AON members are ready to pay their currently existing bills.
“Also not surprising, there have been several allegations of financial impropriety involving some staff of the agency to the tune of huge sums of monies in billions of Nairathat are currently being arrested andinvestigated by the EFCC.It must be stressed that NAMA’s primary/Sole duty is to provide air navigation services. Sadly, as of today, NAMA has about 300 Air Traffic Controllers witha staff strength of over 4807 Staff. The airlines therefore cannot continue to pay for their inefficiency and exuberantlifestyle.
“Airlines operators of Nigeria are responsible citizens that believe in Nigeria and we have taken loans to invest into our beloved country. We believe in the principles of fairnessand accountability. To this end, we therefore call on the agencies to forge a fair and realistic approach to address the matter”, he added.