Despite the N5billion intervention fund extended by the federal government to the aviation sector, stakeholders say the industry could collapse if more funds are not urgently injected into it as airlines and allied businesses continue to count losses after the lockdown occasioned by Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The minister of aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, while speaking at the 25th Annual conference of the league of airport and aviation correspondents (LAAC), at the weekend, said air transport still remains the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sirika, who was represented by the chief executive officer, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Engr. Akin Olateru, stressed that the statistics from the International Airline Transport Association (IATA) on COVID-19’s economic impact on Nigeria have revealed a revenue loss of $994 million in 2020.
He stated further that the report said 125,370 employment is at risk in Nigeria with $885million contribution to the GDP already lost.
To cushion the effect of Covid-19 pandemic on the nation’s aviation sector, he said the federal government provided N5 billion as an intervention fund to domestic airlines.
On his part, chairman, house of representatives committee on Aviation Nnolim Nnaji, said the federal government’s bailout fund to airline operators is too meagre.
“The government didn’t do much in terms of bailout for the airlines. The cost of the engine of a Boeing aircraft is close to $10 million and what the government provided for all the airlines is about N4 billion. When compared to what airlines in other countries got, you will find out that they did not do much for the industry.
“The aviation industry is a very expensive business and most people do not break even. What they just succeeded in doing is to keep the business going because everything about the industry is offshore and that is a challenge.
“We have succeeded in getting zero duty for spare parts purchased by airlines. Another issue that they are battling with is the issue of forex. Since they buy most of their materials abroad, it is important that they have access to forex. The planes need to be in the sky all the time because the more you move, the more money you make, so that you can pay your bills. We would want the Central Bank of Nigeria to create a window for Forex because it will help reduce air fares.”
Also speaking at the event, the chairman, senate committee on aviation, Senator Smart Adeyemi, said the aviation sector, which is key to the socio-economic development of the nation, must be given necessary support to grow.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) says 30 out of 65 private airplanes verified so far are liable to pay required duties to the federal government.
The Customs public relations officer, Mr Joseph Attah, made this known while speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja yesterday.
Attah explained that some of these airplanes came into the country by Temporary Importation agreement which allows them to bring the jets without payment because it was secured by bond.
He said that thereafter many of them failed to turn up to pay on the expiration of the agreement which necessitated the verification.
He stated that with this exercise, there would be more revenue to be accrued to the Federal Government because those who failed to adhere to the agreement would be made to pay the duties.
The customs’ spokesperson said the verification had also given opportunity to the service to clearly differentiate those airplanes in the country that were on commercial operations from those owned and used for private purposes.
Attah restated that the verification was not meant to embarrass anybody but to ensure that the right or required duties were paid to the government by the owners of these private airplanes.
He further disclosed that with the impact of the first two weeks extension, the service had again given another two weeks which commenced from Monday, July 26, to Friday, August 6.
“Considering the rising number of compliance and the number of jets that are liable for payment of duties as well as indications by those people to do so, the Comptroller-General has again graciously given them another two weeks.
“The exercise as I stated in our previous briefings, is not intended to be punitive or to embarrass them but to ensure that these private jets that operate in the country are properly documented.
“And also, to ensure every collectable revenue is collected into the coffers of the Federal Government.
“As you all know the case of increasing economic challenge, every source of revenue is important to the government and beyond that, for security purpose.
“With this, you can now tie proper ownership to every aircraft or private jet that flies into and out of the country. Through the exercise, we have been able to know those hiding under temporary importation agreement.
“We are aware that owners of private jets are highly placed Nigerians who should be respected and approached in a manner that provides all necessary convenience and that is what these extensions stands for,” he explained.
According to him, this will be the last extension because whoever fails to turn up for the verification will have his aircraft impounded.