Recently, the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON) urged the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to review the five per cent it receives as surcharge, and in its place, adopt the new surcharge of between 25 and 40 per cent regime on aviation fuel consumption as part of measures to cope with the present upswing in the price of aviation fuel. The operators say that the current rate of aviation fuel, which hovers from N690 to N714 per litre, was unsustainable. The local airline operators are of the view that their survival depends on the new surcharge. Without the surcharge, it is likely that the local aviation industry is bound to collapse.
Some of the airlines are already in distress and without any financial assistance from the government, they will soon be out of business. However, there is no sign yet that the NCAA will readily grant the request considering that the fuel surcharge is not remitted to the agency but to the Federal Government treasury. In recent times, the price of JET A1 has increased by over 500 per cent over the last five months. Undoubtedly, the local airlines are in distress due to multiple challenges.
The prevailing hike in airfares is a survival strategy. Unfortunately, not many Nigerians can afford the airfare of between N80,000 to N130,000 for a flight of one hour. They need more than that to avert imminent collapse. The operators, hard-hit by the surging cost of aviation fuel, foreign exchange (FX) crisis and other operational costs, need urgent assistance from the government. The aviation industry must be quickly protected before it goes under.
The importance of the airline industry to economic and tourism development of a nation cannot be overemphasised. The Federal Government should initiate far-reaching measures to save the sector before it is too late. The high cost of aviation fuel has inadvertently increased the operational cost of airlines by over 130 per cent. It has also led to increase in airfares and cancellation of flights. This is why the airline operators believe that a surcharge of between 25 and 40 per cent will help to avert the collapse of the industry.
It is also in connection with this that AON is seeking immediate review of the extant rule that airlines are required to obtain approval for an initial three months before implementation of fuel surcharge, and a waiver of the demand that airlines pay an additional five per cent on the fuel surcharge.
No doubt, the local airlines are battling for survival. Everything must be done now to save the crumbling aviation sector. Since flying is generally adjudged as the safest and fastest means of travelling, the local airlines should not be allowed to die. Let the challenges in the sector be addressed forthwith. Already, one of the local airline operators has suspended operations. This could be an indicator of worse things to come in the critical sector.
Besides, the recent shutdown of Runway 18 L at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, has been reported to be hampering the operational efficiency of airlines. Beyond that, the scarcity of foreign exchange has put the airlines in a dire situation. The government should change the narrative. We are opposed to any policy that may cause the imminent collapse of the local airlines. Government must be consistent in its policies in the sector.
Any policy that is detrimental to the survival of the sector must be jettisoned. If the local airlines are killed, the planned new national carrier will fail. We expect the government to put in place structures that will protect local airlines and ensure that a conducive business environment exists for their smooth operation.
The challenges facing local airlines should be tackled head-on. The way forward is to improve safety in the sector. There is need for adequate security at the airports. Above all, providing modern navigational equipment and addressing the forex scarcity and aviation fuel crisis is crucial. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria’s aviation sector lost $700 million, the worst in Africa, according to data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Despite the statement credited to the Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, that there is no solution in sight to the aviation woes, we believe that the prevailing challenges in the sector can be urgently addressed.