The Senate, Monday, deplored the N4 billion bailout for airlines, stressing that the amount was too small to bring succour to the operators that lost much to COVID-19 disruptions. Others are entitled to a N1 billion buffer.
But the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who was speaking at a three-day public hearing by the Senator Smart Adeyemi-led Senate Committee on Aviation to repeal and enact enabling laws of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) in Abuja, held that the operators were indebted to government to the tune of $6.993 million and N19.4 billion.
He, however, assured relevant stakeholders that the largesse would soon be made available to the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) for onward disbursement to members.
The minister equally told the panel that the executive bills were to address real concerns of stakeholders in the industry. “The Federal Government has approved N4 billion as bailout for the airlines, and N1 billion for other businesses within the civil aviation,” he clarified.
He went on: “We have concerns, and they are very genuine. NCAA operates on cost recovery basis. The airline operators are owing us $6,993,234 and another N365,374,686. These are money we get from tickets, and they ought to be remitting this money so that we can train more inspectors, and keep the industry safer.”
Sirika insisted on concessioning of the nation’s four international airports amid suspension of the plan by the House of Representatives and organised labour.
Reminded that the halt was informed by his non-appearance before the lower legislative chamber and labour’s opposition to the move, he stated: “I am going to appear before the House of Representatives, and I am going to appear before everybody. I will love to appear before Nigerians to discus this policy of government.”
Faulting the meagerness of the bailout, Adeyemi noted: “If we really want to keep the airline operators in business, and we don’t want them to close shop and go home, the Federal Government should shore up the amount it wanted to give to the operators. For a developing nation like Nigeria, we need to encourage them to remain in business. The situation would be worse if we fail to support them, and they would have to be cutting corners.”
Earlier, AON’s representative, Chinasa Unaegburam, sought drastic reduction in charges imposed on airlines by NCAA for efficient operations.
She said: “We are proposing that we have our fees at a cost recovery level to ensure that these agencies are run efficiently in the system. The aim is also to ensure accountability and transparency.”
According to her, the operators are groaning under what she called unbearable charges. The local airlines were estimated to have lost over N180 billion to the recent lockdowns and downturn trigged by the novel coronavirus. The Federal Government had pledged a N27 billion bumper for the sector, out of which the airlines had expected minimum of N10 billion.
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