There are indications that more domestic airlines may close shop if the federal government fails to provide adequate intervention funds for airlines that are already in comatose, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, LEADERSHIP Sunday can now reveal.
Similarly, investigation showed that over 100 airlines have closed shop in the Nigerian aviation industry in the last 20 years, due to high charges and unfavourable operating environment
Although the federal government had recently approved the N4bn COVID-19 palliative for airlines in the country, aviation experts are still contesting that the amount is a drop in the ocean, considering the myriad of financial challenges confronting local airliners.
In his reaction, aviation expert and CEO Sabre Network, West Africa, Dr Gbenga Olowo, pointed out that the fund will not be enough considering the tasks that are ahead of operators.
According to Olowo, domestic airlines alone owe about N22 billion to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), while they are also losing about N360 billion as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Condemning the inadequacy and delays associated with the disbursement of the palliative fund, Dr Olowo said, “Reasonable countries intervened in their aviation industries in the second or third months of such crisis. This is the eighth month after the crisis and Nigeria is just responding. I think the government should just leave us to die, then, we will know Nigeria has no aviation industry. The N4billion palliative for the aviation industry is very insensitive. I condemn it totally.”
Explaining further, Olowo, while noting that the airline industry is not made up of aeroplanes alone, added that there are allied services and that people that produce onboard service are part of it.
‘’This is without forgetting handling companies, they are all part of aviation. So how do you want to share N4billion among them? If you put that money into the well of the debt of Arik alone, it will swallow it. It is better the government did not intervene and tell us they cannot help us because they have to pay senators and House of Representatives members,” Olowo said.
On the other hand, a retired officer from the Nigeria Air Force and former Airport Commandant at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) , Group Captain John Ojikutu, argued that it is not possible that the domestic airlines recorded a loss of N360bn in 8 months and could not have made that much with the 5 million average passenger traffic in a year.
According to Capt Ojikutu, to get that amount in a year from 5 million passengers, each would have to pay an average fare of N72,000.
Aviation Expert and managing director of Overland Airways, Captain Edward Boyo, who made the observation recently in Abuja, regretted that the unfavourable operating environment had led to the death of airlines and loss of jobs for qualified personnel in the sector.
Boyo explained that no fewer than 35 charges are imposed on the airlines by various government agencies even outside the industry