ANTHONY AWUNOR writes that tension may boil over in the aviation sector over the minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika’s new proposal that five per cent of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria’s (FAAN) Passenger Service Charges (PSC) should be remitted to the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) on monthly basis.
Few months ago, the minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, ordered that Federal Airports of Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) should be remitting five per cent of its Passenger Service Charges (PSC) to the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) on monthly bases. The minister’s order was as a result of a request earlier made by AIB, demanding for 10 per cent of such fund from the Aviation Ministry.
Before now, AIB is funded from three per cent of total revenue derived from Ticket Sales Charges (TSC) in addition to their yearly budgetary federal government allocation since the United Nation’s charter on Aircraft Accident Investigation does not allow them to charge for services rendered as IGR
The proposal has not yet been implemented but that singular pronouncement has sent jitters in the minds of all the stakeholders in the aviation industry including, operators, agencies, labour unions, pensioners, passengers and even the general public. Different opinions have been espoused while a wide range of commentators have expressed fears over the directive.
Their fears seem to hinge on the fact that FAAN needs adequate funds to operate without hindrances, so as to meet up the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) prescribed standard. This they say has a lot of safety implications to the very sensitive sector in terms of safety and security.
It was also gathered that FAAN presently is already remitting about 20 per cent of their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to the federation account in addition to huge wage bills, unpaid staff allowances and with over 6,700 workers and 4,000 pensioners to be settled financially.
Operationally, FAAN oversees all the airports in the country. With such status, it is burdened with the funding and servicing of all the facilities at the over 25 domestic airports and international airports in the country. It also sees to the security, facilities, fire-fighting amongst other crucial responsibilities.
Reports have shown that out of the over 25 domestic airports and about five international airports; the four viable airports in the country are just Murtala Mohammed International Airport, (MMIA) Lagos; Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA) Kano, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja and Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), Port Harcourt while others are not rated as viable airports.
The implication is that the bulk of their funding falls on FAAN to finance and service those ones that are not viable from revenue generated from the viable airports, a situation which has created huge overhead for the aviation agency.
Kicking against the ministerial directive, chairman of Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN) of the Federal Airports of Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) branch, Comrade Danjuma Ahmed said that revenue of that nature cannot be given to a sister agency without recourse to the law.
Suggesting that the minister should get an approval to access the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) fund and the Aviation Security fund, Ahmed emphasized that removing five per cent from FAAN is definitely going to be a serious problem to them and that is why ATSSSAN is kicking against the ministerial directive.
Describing the directive as unpopular, Ahmed pointed out that such step is detrimental to the operations and performance of FAAN. According to Comrade Ahmed, FAAN was established by an Act of Parliament which approves their expenditures through their budget and as such, it is only that National Assembly that can warrant any removal of such revenue to any agency.
The ATSSSAN leader who made it clear that FAAN cannot afford to remit a Kobo to any agency, said that already FAAN remits about 20 per cent of its internally generated revenue (IGR) to the federation account, part of which this PSC is involved.
Emphasising further, Ahmed stated that the PSC is the tariff, FAAN charges their passengers for services they offer to them in respect to terminal building, screening equipment, conveniences for travelling passengers and any other which is only N1, 000.
Ahmed said that, the amount generated is inadequate and FAAN is even finding it difficult to operate and provide those services efficiently as expected by their passengers. He therefore affirms that the request by the minister for five per cent remittance to AIB will definitely affect FAAN’s performance, vis-à-vis the provision of those services.
“That is why we as a responsible union, we have said no to that; we strongly object it. We sincerely acknowledge the fact that AIB needs funding but there are many ways through which the minister can get funding for AIB”, Ahmed said.
With huge wage bills, unpaid staff allowances and with over 6,700 workers and 4,000 pensioners, Ahmed said that the five per cent remittance will further prune down their revenue being that PSC contributes their 60 to 70 per cent of their IGR.
According to the union leader, FAAN does not get any subvention from the federal government and that there is laid down rule that they should not spend more than 45 per cent for overheads. He also added that the union has written to their management and even the minister bringing suggestion on how to handle the situation.
Shortly after the proposal was made by the minister, two major aviation unions in the country: Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP) And Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) branch called on the presidency to intervene on the five per cent proposed grant to AIB.
The union in a letter addressed to the President Buhari, stated that it was not in order to ask any money from FAAN which is already overburdened with a lot of responsibilities.
The labour unions in the document signed by the Secretary General of ANAP, Comrade Abdul Rasaq Saidu and the NUP General Secretary, Comrade Emeka Njoku stated that “While we are not against the commissioner for requesting for more funds for AIB, we saw the approval and directive of five per cent PSC of FAAN to AIB as an abuse of office by the Minister of State, Aviation.
Government owned companies, parastatals and agencies, were established through enabling Acts, stating how funds or revenue could be provided. It is therefore dangerous now, trying to unlawfully rob FAAN to pay AIB, when both were established by law stipulating their source of funding.”
According to ANAP and NUP, yearly budgets are being prepared and defended by both FAAN and AIB base on individual IGR and have obtained approval before appropriation. They therefore, stated that for the minister to direct FAAN to be remitting 5% from monthly PSC without due process of law amounted to an outright illegality on the part of the Minister of State and shall also result into threat to safety and security for which FAAN is statutorily empowered.
Having critically looked into the reasons given by the commissioner/CEO of AIB for requesting for more funds to enable AIB Operates and meets her statutory responsibilities, the aviation unions stated that such demand, may be feasible but surely, not from the overburdened FAAN.
However, members of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) have a different view on the issue. According to NAAPE, the dissention calls to the minister’s proposal are misplaced, adding that there exist substantial grounds to support the five per cent IGR remittance to AIB.
According to President of NAAPE, Comrade Galadima Abednego while addressing journalists recently “The task of modern accident investigation is very exerting, requiring high tech equipment and high caliber personnel. This is inherently a costly venture which cannot be handled adequately in an atmosphere of limited funding.”
“Even though the bureau’s proclaimed task is to investigate air accidents, its real objective is accident prevention. It is NAAPE’s considered view that this task is all important. Therefore, funding impairment should be far removed from its operations’, Galadima said.
FAAN is a service organization statutorily charged to manage all Commercial Airports in Nigeria and provide service to both passenger and cargo airlines. Generally, to create conditions for the development in the most economic and efficient manner of air transport and the services connected with it.
On the other hand, AIB is also under the Ministry of Transportation and is charged with the responsibility to investigate any civil aircraft accident and serious incident arising out of, or in the course of air navigation and occurring either in or over Nigeria, or occurring to Nigerian aircraft elsewhere.
The fundamental objective of AIB is to improve aviation safety by determining the circumstances and causes of air accidents and serious incidents, and providing safety recommendations intended to prevent recurrence of similar accidents. The purpose of this is not to apportion blame or liability.