By LOUIS IBAH
Key stakeholders in Nigeria’s aviation sector are demanding that the Federal Government declares a state of emergency in the industry given the rot in infrastructure across most airports and the collapse of the domestic airline industry.
The stakeholders who gathered at the Lagos Sheraton Hotel on Friday, include domestic airline owners/ operators; leaders of the various aviation sector unions, security experts, past Managing Directors/CEOs of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN); and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA); and some members from the National Assembly members, demanded that the government tread with caution in its quest to sell-off or concession the airports currently managed by FAAN.
Former Director General/CEO of the NCAA Dr. Harold Olusegun Demuren specifically faulted the ongoing plans by the government to concession some of the airports, noting that except those luring the government into the concession project were naive, it was a well known fact within the industry that an attempt to concession the international airports would be met by stiff resistance by the government of China. It could even come with possible litigation and diplomatic row between China and Nigeria.”I am a bit confused about what the government wants to concession. There are already existing issues and litigation cases in courts with some of the airports which should first be resolved if we want to get the best out of them,” said Demuren. “So how do you want to go ahead to concession airports that China granted you loans and they are still constructing the airports and they are yet to commence the execution of the BOT. Someone should educate me better because it doesn’t add up,” queried Demuren, a former regulator of the industry. In 2013, the Chinese Exim Bank had granted Nigeria a $500million loan to build new airport terminals at the Lagos, Enugu, Abuja and Kano International airports, but with a caveat which came in form of a Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) concession deal that allows China to first manage and recoup the investments before transferring the assets back to Nigeria. Demuren who lamented the sorry state of the domestic airline industry said over contracting on the concession of the airports, without giving top priority to the resuscitation of the domestic airlines would amount to a futile venture. “Without the vibrant airlines we cannot talk about concessioning of airports because the airports need the airlines to function and also for investors to recoup their monies,” he added.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Privatisation, Senator Ben Bruce said the Federal Government must take urgent steps resuscitate the local airline industry. Bruce noted that apart from Arik Air, other airlines could not boast of more than four aircraft while the Presidential fleet had 10 aircraft. He therefore called on President Muhammadu Buhari to off load some aircraft in the Presidential fleet to boost the local airline fleet, even if it was on a lease agreement. “The alarming rate at which Nigerian airlines are shutting down at short notices must halted. This is is an emergency situation. The aviation sector is going through a desperate time and needs a desperate solution,” said Bruce. Chairman, Airlines Operators of Nigeria, Capt. Nogie Meggison in his presentation said the entire concession plan was immersed in ambiguity. “What are we concessioning? Is it the airports building terminals? Or the airside like the runways, fire services. Or the hospitals and schools?,” asked Meggison.