FG May Declare Aviation Agencies’ Staff Redundant

Ahmadu Illitrus

Chinedu Eze

The federal government may be forced to declare some personnel in the aviation agencies redundant if the lockdown in air transport continues beyond May.

This was disclosed by the President of the Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Ahmadu Illitrus, in a chat with THISDAY.

While some airlines have sacked majority of their workforce, others sent theirs on leave without pay and some others have drastically cut down salaries of their workers. Also, some others have decided to pay zero salary in April and May.

But Illitrus said this would not be the fate of aviation agencies personnel unless the lockdown persists for a longer time.

Aviation agencies include the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) and the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria.

The President of ATSSSAN said many of the agencies pay salaries from revenues generated internally and as they have not worked for over a month now, going to two months, government may be forced to give the agencies subvention.

He, however, expressed hope that flight operations would resume in May, with new safety protocol against coronavirus, which may include the airlines providing face masks and sanitizers to passengers, strict temperature checks and disclosed that there is contemplation that airlines may stop serving food onboard for domestic flight operation, as most flights in Nigeria is about one hour.

Illitrus also disclosed that cabin crew post COVID-19 would be expected to wear masks and expressed optimism that when flight operations resume, the agencies would start earning revenue.

“It will be difficult for government to sack workers in the aviation agencies. I doubt if government can direct the agencies to lay off workers. We have agreed to live with COVID-19 but we need to adopt proactive measures so that flight operations can resume because we cannot continue to lockdown the economy.

“It was aviation that spread coronavirus in the world. If the world had suspended air travel earlier that it did, the virus would not have spread everywhere as it has done.

“But I do not expect that government would sack workers in the agencies. What happened in the airlines was expected; they are private concerns. We cannot stop what is happening in the airlines, but I must say that employers regard their workers as expendables who can be sacked at any time, but what may happen if lockdown goes beyond May is that government might give subvention to the agencies to pay salaries of workers.

“After that; government might declare redundancy, but for government to do that, it must have money ready to pay those that are sent home. Maybe, those who are close to their retirement,” Illitrus said.

The Director of Consumer Protection, NCAA, Adamu Abdullahi confirmed the introduction of use of mask and said airlines should be encouraged to maintain social distancing by asking passengers to check in online, saying NCAA would emphasise airworthiness, fumigation, sanitisation of aircraft as well as airports.

He said FAAN has already restructured facilities at the airports to protect users and installed automatic sanitizer dispensers at strategic places.

Meanwhile, the spokesman of Dana Air, Kingsley Ezenwa said the airlines may not be willing to add the cost of face mask and sanitizers to air fares because that might discourage passengers from flying.

He said that airlines would have to bring down airfares to attract passengers so they would be reluctant to add more money to the fares, but if NCAA makes it compulsory that passengers must wear mask, it means that it would become a temporary directive that anyone that wished to travel by air must board the flight, wearing facemask.

He also said airlines might still serve refreshments on board but because it is packaged, passengers may not eat it on board but take it home, adding that cabin crew would wear mask on board flights.