Bankole Bernard is the Managing Director Of Finchglow Travels Limited and President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA). The banker-turned-travel operator speaks with Omolola Itayemi during a breakfast meeting on the need to declare a state of emergency in the air transport sector
In your capacity as president of NANTA, you are calling for a state of emergency in the sector. Why?
The National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) has called for a state of emergency in the country’s aviation industry with the hope of stemming the rot that has pervaded the sector. If nothing is done; the sector would continue to witness the precarious situation it has found itself. We have observed that before now, the foreign airlines were leaving the country starting with United Airline and Iberia, with Emirates and British Airways reducing their capacity, but people said it does not matter. Now, the domestic airlines are closing shops.
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. During the time when foreign airlines’ funds were trapped in Nigeria, we 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 finalized released, the airlines have lost about 40 -50 of the value of their tickets. Government policy in the industry is not favorable both to the domestic airline operators and foreign airlines. If we are not careful, other countries like Ghana will be taking advantage of inconsistent policy to reposition aviation to draw passengers to their sector and by reducing aviation fuel by 20 per cent; a situation that could make foreign airlines and Nigerian carriers take advantage of the situation. President John Dramani Mahama had recently said the National Petroleum Authority would soon reduce the prices of aviation fuel by 20 per cent to encourage more international airlines to purchase their fuel from Ghana. The agreement was as a result of complaints from most of the international airlines that Ghana’s aviation fuel prices were higher than most of her competitors. The cost of aviation fuel is relatively expensive in Ghana compared to other economies within the sub region. Whilst Nigeria and Republic of Benin sell a litre of aviation fuel at $2 30 cents; Cameroon sells a litre of aviation fuel for $1, 94 cents, in Ghana a litre of aviation fuel costs $3, 14 cents.
The inability to take their funds then and the sharp reduction in international travel led to reduction in capacity, forcing carriers to reduce their aircraft size and cutting of their frequencies. Emirates had its two daily flights to Lagos reduced to one. Iberia and United also left. Just recently, Aero Contractors suspended flights because they have to do maintenance. We don’t know which airline is next. If domestic carriers are closing shop, we will begin to travel by road.
What about dilapidating the airport infrastructure?
Nigerian airports are obsolete and have nothing to write home about; instead of genuine development what you get is mediocre service. What you have are kiosks springing up here and there at our airports while shopping malls are springing up in other serious airports. Ghana has seen our inadequacies and has reduced their aviation fuel by 20 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.
The government needs to come to the aid of the aviation industry to save it from total collapse as the Nigerian travelling public is suffering. Our body has held meeting with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and other relevant agencies with a view of salvaging the situation.
I say again, Nigerian airports are nothing to write home about. They are in decrepit shape and that is why I maintain that an emergency needs to be declared in aviation to stem the tide. This is coming at a time foreign airlines flying into the country have petitioned the Ministry of Transportation over the appalling facilities at virtually all the airports across the country.
The carriers, which spoke on condition of anonymity because of their safety, called on the Federal Government to look deep into airport terminals around the country in order to give better services to operators, passengers and others users of the facilities.
The foreign airlines complained that while they sell tickets in naira, FAAN mandates them to pay for their charges in dollars.
The poor state of Abuja airport runway, poses huge risk to airlines. Recently, South African Airways had its aircraft damaged when it landed on the pot-hole ridden runway, causing inconveniences to passengers, airlines and other users. NANTA cannot continue to keep quite over what is happening in the industry to stop it from total collapse.
There is nothing stopping the country from the using one of her local airlines as national carrier pending when government decides to form a national carrier. Up till now, the Maintenance Repair and Overhaul facilities are still lacking in the country. Other nations depend on aviation while Nigeria is struggling to make revenue in the industry.