Over the years, domestic airlines have been grappling with various challenges ranging from high cost of aviation fuel, multiple charges, unfavourable government policies and lately, scarcity of forex, which is taking a huge toll on their operation.
These local carries often blame their woes on unfriendly government policies, which they say dog at their operations. One of such policies, is what they described as insensitive overcharges by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
Practically, FAAN adroitly introduced aeronautical charges that are exploitative and stifling to airlines, whereas in other parts of the world, there are reductions in aeronautical charges aimed at giving airlines relief so that they could operate profitably. The emphasis now is on non-aeronautical charges, which are paid by businesses and other services providers at the airports that yield more revenues to airport managers and government.
Until last December, many Nigerians do not know that if an airline is operating into airports that close by 6:00 pm it has to pay about N500, 000 to FAAN so that the agency workers could stay longer to wait for the aircraft to arrive. The air traffic control and other government service providers would wait for the arrival of the flight. So besides the normal charges airlines pay to FAAN, they have to cough out such huge amount to pay for time extension.
Ideally, many airports in Nigeria are conceived to operate for 24 hours. But because FAAN did not provide the necessary facilities, including airfield lighting, many of these airports shut down by 6:00 pm every day. So technically, Nigeria could be said to have about six functional airports out of 22 managed by FAAN in addition to about seven built and owned by states and Osubi airport in Delta state, which is managed by Shell. What this means is that during emergency in the night, a pilot has only six airports to land in after 6:00 pm despite all the hoopla about Nigeria having more airports than all other countries put together in West and Central Africa. Unfortunately, other airports managed by the state government have taken a cue from FAAN to introduce these obnoxious charges on time extension.
Narrating the challenges Air Peace faced in its operations during the Christmas holiday in 2016, the Chairman of the airline, Chief Allen Onyema said, “When we operated to Uyo during that time we paid N800, 000 for extension of time because the weather was not good and I had to be delayed. In Enugu every day I had to be paying over N500, 000 to fly into Enugu for our last flights. Is the airline supposed to pay that after you have paid five percent charge to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA)? That five percent charge is supposed to be for all government agencies; yet, we pay other fees to the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), we are paying charges to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria. They deduct from us at source. And after making these payments you go into the airport there is no runway light, you are now limited to fly only between the hours 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Onyema also observed that some of these airport workers don’t even come to work on time.
“Our departure from Lagos to Enugu or any other destination is 7:10 am, you need the destination airport to be awake to give you weather conditions there. You noticed that as at 7:10 take off, the workers at the destination airport have not come to work. Some airports don’t open on time until 7:30 am. You will be waiting for their workers to arrive to give you weather report. Some of those airports do not go to work on time and by 6: 00 pm they close. Enugu, for example, has runway light but they close on time so why can’t they operate 24 hours like an international airport? Why can’t that place be opened 24 hours? Why do you make me to pay extra for landing there after 6: 00 pm? Everyday during the Christmas period I was paying about N500, 000,” he lamented.
Other industry operators who confirmed the outrageous charges accused FAAN of being hostile to domestic airlines, noting that the agency ought to provide airfield lighting and operate 24 hours service in all the busy airports currently underserved like Benin, Owerri, Calabar, Enugu, Yola and Jos. These are airports that airlines could operate in after twilight.
Industry consultant and CEO of Belujane Konsult, Chris Aligbe, criticised the over charges by FAAN and said that government is pushing the agency to exploit airlines and other airport users because it wants FAAN to contribute to government coffers instead of allowing the Authority to use the revenues generated to upgrade the airports and provide safety critical facilities.
“Let me tell you, government wants to eat its cake and still have the cake. It is very difficult, for the simple fact that, they are pushing these agencies including FAAN to increase the Internally generated Revenue (IGR) base, they are pushing them to contribute more to the national coffers. So FAAN is doing all sorts of things to do that. The money FAAN gets goes into national coffers. They are not thinking of FAAN getting this money and deploying it for the development of the airports. So FAAN does what it does and whatever it gets it has to pay salaries, it is not getting subvention and whatever remains goes to government coffers.
“That is why some of the things FAAN is doing today are making our airports the most unfriendly airports in the world. That is why they charge exorbitant rates for car park tolls. You make it unfriendly through high charges but you lose money because if FAAN were to automate that system based on the length of stay, that is what is done globally, FAAN will make more money than it is making now, when you automate those who park their cars for a longer time pay more. I know people who park their cars there for almost 18 hours a day and pay the same fixed toll. So there must be a paradigm shift, there must be a mind shift. So what government is doing, is that they are pushing FAAN too hard to increase its contribution to the distributable pull while it is expecting FAAN also to continue running the airports the way it should be run. That cannot happen,” Aligbe said.
Government and its agencies must reduce the financial burden on Nigerian airlines to enable them to survive and provided them with critical infrastructure for seamless operation.