Domestic Airlines Owe Aviation Agencies N513bn, Says Minister


Chinedu Eze

The Minister of State, for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, thursday said the total debts owed aviation agencies by Nigerian airlines were over N513 billion.

The minister who seemed angry with the airlines for kicking against the Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM), said Nigerian airlines have refused to grow, noting that they supported the liberation of African airspace when they felt that it would favour them, but they are opposing it now because they are still fragmented with lack of capacity.

The minister lamented that the airlines want the federal government to renege from its commitment to the Yamoussoukro Declaration, which is the liberation of Africa’s airspace because they know that they cannot compete effectively and urged them to come together.

The minister who spoke to journalists in Lagos at General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos said: “The airlines have refused to grow and the challenges are not caused by government. It is their own making. If I will advise them, let them get their acts together to focus, reorganise, reengineer, take advantage and be futuristic. They should see the bigger future; the bigger pie and organise themselves to take advantage of SAATM; rather than to sit here and whine at a train that is already moving.

“There is an airline that owes one of the agencies N13 billion. One airline owes several agencies and companies up to N500 billion; just one airline. That airline has been taken over. Is that how they will compete? I think it is getting their priorities right and by doing the business model that will get money for them that they will operate well. There is a lot they can do in aviation than just passenger scheduled services when they don’t have the capacity, experience and the business model,” Sirika also said.

On the Dana Air incident when the aircraft’s door fell off on landing at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja on Wednesday, the minister described the incident as traumatising, but noted that with the way the aircraft is designed, the door could not have fallen off while the aircraft is airborne because it is pressurised,
He apologised to the passengers who were in the flight when the incident happened and members of the public, saying investigation was ongoing and would be made public by weekend.

Sirika also disclosed that plans for a new national carrier were already at an advanced stage and its set up would drive the open sky treaty recently signed with 22 African countries.

He said proper roll out and its establishment would take place within the next few months, before the end of this current administration, adding that in the next one or two months maximum, both the outline business case for the transaction and the full business case for the national carrier would be rolled out, after which processes for the carrier’s set up will begin.

“I will say that we are very close to having the national carrier established. Certainly, it will be within the first term of this administration,” he said.

He said the national carrier is crucial to full implementation of bilateral agreements, especially SAATM; otherwise called open sky treaty, noting that the treaty, of which Nigeria signed with 22 African countries, is aimed at growth, development, more jobs, more security, more connectivity and passenger satisfaction at airports.

“Nigeria with 173 million people, the two-third of west Africa, will be one of the biggest beneficiaries. At the time Nigeria was pushing for this treaty, we had the Nigerian Airways to take advantage of it. Now we don’t have it and our airlines are, for one reason or the other, have not grown to that capacity and this is why government felt that we should set in motion a national carrier programme that will take advantage of the liberalisation and agreements for the benefit of the Nigerian people.

“I believe we are on the right course. I believe that this private sector led and driven airline when established will become the dominant carrier in Africa because the market is in Nigeria and it is central. So, Nigeria is at very vantage position to take advantage of this SAATM,” the minister said.