The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has warned aviation agencies not to jeorpardise the airlines in their bid to collect old debts owed by the operators.
The operators said the debt collection drive may run the airlines out of business as was the case in the past from ridiculous billings that were arbitrarily put together against the operators.
The Chairman of AON, Captain Nogie Meggison, who gave the warning, said: “We strongly decry the on-going action by the various government agencies in the aviation sector whereby they threaten to deny airlines services for their operations or completely ground them, which is likely to force airlines out of business. 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 realise that air transport is the engine of the economy. Hence, if they disrupt the services of Nigerian airlines then they will damage the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari to restore the economy.”
He noted that without the airlines, there would be no aviation in the first place; that it is because of the airlines that airports are built and managed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
“It is because of the airlines that an agency like the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) exists to provide navigational services. The 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”, he added.
Meggison said airlines work tirelessly to airlift Nigerians safely around the country and described them as 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.
“The 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 taxation of all kinds to various government organs and are forced to pay for several inefficiencies and 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 20 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,” he said.
The AON Chairman observed that majority of these ‘phantom’ debts are owed by airlines that are dead, remarking that it is 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.
“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 cent, selling today at N110 equivalent. Even if both countries are importing aviation fuel, why is Nigeria selling at N200 per litre as against Ghana at N110?”
He said such is not observed in Nigeria, which 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 airlines constant calls over the years for action in this regard.