Exit of Foreign Airlines Worries Senate C’ttee, Aviation Minister Summoned

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Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

The Senate Committee on Aviation monday expressed concern over the constant withdrawal of some foreign airlines from the nation’s airspace and consequently announced its plans to summon the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, to appear before it and explain the rationale behind this ugly trend.

Making this disclosure in the National Assembly after a meeting of the committee with various aviation agencies, the committee chairman, Adamu Aliero, told journalists that persistent scarcity of aviation fuel which had forced some foreign airlines to shut down operations in Nigeria was embarrassing for a nation which produces crude oil in large quantity.

Aliero who said the problem could easily be resolved by the federal government without dragging the nation to such an embarrassing state, said it was very ridiculous that an oil producing country could watch both the local and foreign airlines purchase aviation fuel from neighbouring countries.

The senator further said in view of the challenges of funding facing the aviation sector, the National Assembly might be left without option than to amend the constitution to pave the way for convenient repatriation of funds owed by airlines to the coffers of the federal government in naira equivalent.

According to him, if the aviation industry must be productive, there is the ultimate need to unbundle the sector with a view to increasing its revenue profile.

“From what the committee was made to understand, the most major problem faced by foreign airlines is aviation fuel which is a major problem in Nigeria. In spite of the country being an oil producing one, it is embarrassing that airlines get their products from neighbouring countries.

“As regards repatriation of funds, it is more of a constitutional problem. We will look at ways of fine tuning the constitution so as to make it possible for airlines to remit funds owed government.

“There is also the need to unbundle the aviation sector. We are of the opinion that if this is done, the operations of the sector will be liberalised an that will go a long way to boosting revenue generated. So, these are the issues, and since these problems exist, we will invite the Aviation Minister so we can find a lasting solution to them,” Aliero said.

Also speaking, a member of the committee, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, said unbundling the aviation sector had become a necessity in view of the challenges faced by the aviation sector, noting that the move would enable relevant agencies to re-evaluate their policies and consequently chart the way forward for the sector.

“We are all aware where we are. With the economy, and we are aware how much the aviation sector can generate for the country. We must think of unbundling the aviation sector. We have unreasonably over-burdened ourselves. If what we have tried in the past has not worked, is it not time to re-evaluate our policies for the aviation sector? We must change our way of doing things; we have to do so at this point because we have no option – so we can move the industry forward,” he said.

Na’Allah also canvassed the need to liberalise the art of flying under the Nigerian law, saying the bottlenecks in the sector impede the ability of Nigerian pilots to compete with their foreign counterparts for international jobs.

He also alleged that pilots and aeronautical engineers trained in the country are not fit for employment as a result of non-availability of aircraft to enable them put the knowledge they acquired into practice.

Enumerating the challenges confronting the sector, representative of the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mr. Femi Ogunade, disclosed that foreign airlines were leaving the country in droves.

In the same vein, the Managing Director of Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Mr. Emma Agasi, said airlines operating in Nigeria had been incapacitated from repatriating the stipulated 5 percent charge to federal government’s coffers as a result of non-availability of forex required to do so.

He said despite the preparedness of the affected airlines to make such payments in naira equivalent, they are disallowed by constitutional provisions which provide for such payment in dollars as he appealed to the National Assembly to amend relevant laws to address the trend.