In order to save the air transport sector, which is described as a catalyst to economic development of any nation, the President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Mr. Bankole Bernard has urged authorities to declare a state of emergency in the aviation industry.
Bernard pointed out the poor airport infrastructure, high cost and scarcity of aviation fuel and lack of major maintenance facility as some of the factors that have dogged the progress of the industry. He said declaring a state of emergency in the sector would attract the attention of government to rescue the sector, noting that its collapse would certainly erode the nation’s economy and exacerbate the current recession the country is facing.
Speaking during a breakfast meeting in Lagos at the weekend, Bernard said instead of growing, the sector has been regressing and all the successes achieved in the past are being lost.
NANTA boss observed that the economic downturn and lack of incentive policies prompted foreign airlines to leave the country, starting with Iberia and United Airlines and forced Emirates and British Airways to reduce their frequency and capacity respectively, but in reaction to this development, people said it did not matter, adding that the situation has now degenerated to the extent that some domestic airlines are forced to suspend scheduled services.
Bernard said it has become imperative for NANTA to speak on the state of the industry because the body is at liberty to speak without fear or favour.
He said during the time when most of the foreign airlines funds were trapped in Nigeria, NANTA cried out that if some of these airlines leave, the country may be at risk of losing 300, 000 jobs that even when the money was finalised released, the airlines have lost about 40 -50 of the value of their tickets.
He lamented that government policy in the industry is not favorable both to the domestic airline operators and foreign airlines.
“Nigerian airports are obsolete and have nothing to write home about, instead of genuine development; rather kiosks are springing up here and there at our airports where shopping malls are springing up in other serious airports. Ghana has seen our inadequacies and has reduced their aviation fuel by 25 percent in a bid to reposition Accra as a hub and are working to establish their national carrier, by so doing, it will be coming to Nigeria to take our passengers and take off from Accra. Even some of the airlines now quarter their crew in Ghana. This will take money away from Nigeria’s economy to Ghana and this will force the travel agencies to start relocating to Ghana. This is the reason why a state or emergency should be declared in the aviation industry or the industry will disappear completely” Bernard said.
He said that government needs to come to the aid of the aviation industry to save it from total collapse as the Nigerian travelling public is suffering.
Furthermore, Bernard noted that the body has held meetings with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and other relevant agencies with a view of salvaging the situation, adding that though the government is still looking at generating revenues from tourism but that the country is still struggling to get one percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from tourism.
According to him, “Tourism industry cannot grow without a perfect aviation industry.”
NANTA boss also expressed concern about the state of the Abuja runway, which he said is a major source of concern to the airlines as South Africa Airways flight was recently damaged by bad state of runway which left the aircraft grounded for days and the passengers were lodged at Sheraton Abuja at the high cost of money to the airline and inconvenience of the passengers.
Bernard remarked that now that the country does not have a national carrier it could designate present domestic carriers to play such roles pending when government would be able to establish a national airline.
He said up till, now the Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities are still lacking in the country, adding that other nations depend on aviation to grow their economy while Nigeria is struggling to generate revenue in the industry.
Bernard noted that if Ghana succeeds in their plans of making Accra a hub in West Africa, airlines would be coming from Ghana to pick passengers from Nigeria and travel agents would start relocating to Ghana, stressing that this would create wealth for Ghana and money that supposed to be spent in Nigeria would now be spent in Ghana.
NANATA president said that this is already happening as some airlines are keeping their crew members in Accra.