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“Some people are out to kill the aviation sector” – Tukur

By on October 14, 2013

Alhaji Mohammed Tukur is the Assistant Secretary General, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON). He speaks on the challenges in the aviation sector against the backdrop of the Associated Airlines plane crash that claimed 15 lives.

You are a major stakeholder in the aviation sector with many years of experience. How do you assess the sector after 53 years of independence?

The sector recorded remarkable achievements under the tenure of the former Director General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). It was during that period that Nigeria got the Category-One certification, which is an international recognition. Also, despite challenges in some aspects of the system and aside from the Dana plane crash, Nigeria achieved relative safety and stability in the sector during that period as well.

Now looking at the sector under the current NCAA management, would you say that the aviation system is on track?

To be honest, the challenges facing the sector at present are quite enormous. The major problems include the move by the Aviation Minister to discard the existing Civil Aviation Act of 2006, which works in line with globally acceptable standards and replace it with a new policy of her choice, multiple charges. The issue of Civil Aviation Act of 2006 is a serious challenge because if not carefully handled, Nigeria may lose the Category-One certification, which took NCAA great effort to achieve.

Could you explain what you mean by multiple charges in the aviation sector?

The issue of multiple charges is a major challenge facing local airline operators. The charges are so numerous and have significantly affected our operations negatively on daily basis. For instance, we pay five per cent charge for passenger’s ticket, which is a compulsory payment for every airline operator.

This implies that when you buy a flight ticket from any airline, five per cent of the monetary value of that ticket must be paid to NCAA. If you book for a private chartered flight going to Abuja or any destination within Nigeria, you are bound to pay certain charges as well. Assuming the amount for a chartered flight is N5million, it means you must pay five per cent of N5million to NCAA.

Aside from that, what are other charges that airline operators are made to pay to various agencies in the sector?

There are many charges but let me just mention the common ones such as landing/parking fees, passenger’s service charge, on-duty card, payment for car park, navigation charges, access fees, office charges, electricity bills, charges on aviation fuel and many others.

Could you give us the analysis on the charges in terms of statistics on the amount and the agencies saddled with the responsibility of collecting the fees?

Well, let me start with landing/parking charges collected by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). This money is for every landing/parking that an aircraft makes at various points. For instance, if your aircraft lands 20 times at different airports, you must pay landing fees 20 times per day. The amount is from N14,000 depending on the weight of the aircraft and is compulsory.

Another one is called passenger’s service charge, which is from N1,000 and is on every sticker attached to the ticket. We also pay what is called on-duty card charge that is issued by FAAN for you to identify that you are working within the airport. The amount for this card is from N2,000. There is payment for car park, which is from N200. We have navigation charge and the money goes to Nigerian Air space Management Agency (NAMA). It means that if your aircraft moves from Lagos to Abuja and any airport in the country, you must pay for navigation. That is not all. We also pay what is called access charge.

What is access charge?

Access charge is collected by FAAN before your car is allowed to cross from local airport to the international airport. The amount is between N100 and N200 depending on the type of vehicle you are driving. Assuming if you have a transaction that takes you from local to international airports 10 times, it means you must pay access fee 10 times a day. Apart from access between local and international airports, we also pay for access to the tarmac for a vehicle carrying our crew members to have access to the tarmac area. The amount is about N250,000 for every airline carrier going inside the tarmac. This is a yearly payment that also goes to FAAN.

Others include payment for excess baggage charges for carrying any cargo into your aircraft and the money goes to NCAA. This implies that if you carry any cargo into your aircraft, you must pay NCAA five per cent of the amount charged for such cargo. Airline operators in Nigeria are also made to pay charges for aviation fuel. In this case, every litre of aviation fuel attracts charges and, because of these charges, oil marketers have increased the amount of aviation fuel from N180 per litre to about N195.

We also pay for office charge, which is from N35,000 every year depending on how big your office is. Electricity bill is another payment. Here they do not give us meters to pay as we go for what we consume but we must pay once the estimated bill is brought. We are also made to pay five per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on the value of every ticket to internal revenue, which is for the Federal Government. After all these charges, the airline must pay staff salaries.

So, how do you improve your margin to stay in business?

You could see from the analysis that the operating environment is not conducive for local airline operators to thrive. This, in a way, contributed to why some airlines suffered cash crunch and closed shop. The situation is terrible and that is the reason President Goodluck Jonathan, after due consideration, granted waivers on importation of aircraft and spare parts into the country.

Prior to the pronouncement made by the president, airline operators were paying as much as 10 per cent of the total amount of a new airplane brought into the country as import duty to Customs. For example, if you bring in a new aircraft, you must pay 10 per cent of the total amount used in purchasing it as import duty. After that, if you take the engine of the same aircraft on which import duty had already been paid for repairs outside the country, you are bound to pay another import duty on that engine when you are bringing it back into the country, which is double taxation.

So far, how is the implementation of the policy on waivers granted by the President?

The policy has not been fully implemented despite the pronouncement made by Jonathan. For example, the President granted waivers on importation of aircraft and spare parts to enhance growth in the sector but some people in the ministry are trying to hinder the process just to exploit the airline operators. They would tell you to go to the ministry and obtain a written note from someone on a policy that Mr. President has already made a pronouncement and gazetted. You could see the level of corruption in the Aviation Ministry. There is no ministry of aviation any where in the world where the citizens are working very hard to develop their economies.

It is only in Nigeria that we have Aviation Ministry and our own ministry has become so corrupt and must be scrapped to ensure sanity in the system. NCAA should be granted full autonomy to run the industry like what obtains in developed countries. This is the only way through which we would fast track development in the sector. Personally, I believe she would be the last Minister of Aviation in Nigeria, because there is no Ministry of Aviation anywhere else in the world. FAAN, NAMA, NCAA and all the parastatals should be given free hands to do their jobs as professionals. I commend the Managing Director of FAAN who is doing his best within the circumstance.

The most annoying aspect is that after these charges, which the airline operators are struggling to pay, NCAA recently imposed yet another range of tariff of $4,000 and $3,000 for foreign registered and Nigerian carrier per trip. We believe the new development is a deliberate attempt by some individuals to kill the sector, because the levy is illegal and against global best practice.

With the situation on ground, airline operators may be forced to move their services out of Nigeria to places where the charges are moderate and reasonable. If Jonathan does not address the crisis in the sector for us to operate in line with the global trend, Nigeria may become a failed state in aviation after 53 years of independence.

NCAA, on September 23, filed a suit in the Federal High Court, Lagos challenging the reluctance of foreign and Nigerian registered airlines to pay the new charges. What do you think would be the out come of this?

We are not afraid because the issue would be sorted out in court. The recent charges applies to every airline like Aero, Arik, Chanchangi, IRS and Dana. We are not in any way against the policy of government but what we are saying is that government should create an enabling environment for the sector to thrive and create jobs for the benefit of our economy.

What is the role of FAAN in all of these?

It is unfortunate that the Ministry of Aviation is influencing everything going on in the sector, from contracts to policies. FAAN is not even given free hands to operate and award aviation contracts to experts according to international standards. Aviation is different from any other sector of the economy due to its nature. As such, aviation contracts often require experts with highly specialised skills to execute them to ensure safety, because safety is number one priority in aviation everywhere in the world.

Why is the management of FAAN keeping quiet about sensitive issues affecting the sector?

It is quite clear that they would not come out openly and talk because they are afraid of losing their jobs. For instance, work at the Port Harcourt airport has been abandoned and, up till now, nothing has changed in Kaduna airport.

Some people insinuated that work is abandoned at Port Harcourt airport because of the face-off and political rancour between the state governor and President Jonathan. Is the Minster of Aviation also having issues with the Vice President in the case of the Kaduna airport?

That I can not say but the quality of work there is nothing to reckon with. The terminal building is not completed; they left it half way. What is even surprising people most is the fact that the Vice President is not saying anything about the poor quality of work in the Kaduna airport. He enters his town through another state. Now we have eight flights to Kaduna on daily basis, which include two flights from Aero, two from Arik, two from Chanchangi and another two from IRS, yet a terminal building with such number of flights is uncompleted. Kano airport is worse than Kaduna because, as I speak, there is no counter for people to use. After launching, it was locked up and even rain has removed the roof. You can see the shameful situation we are in this country. Work in Enugu airport has not finished till now.

You talked about the Civil Aviation Act of 2006. What is the economic implication should the Act be replaced with the new policy from the ministry?

If not carefully handled, Nigeria may lose the Category-One certification that took NCAA time and efforts to achieve. This is because the new policy being introduced by the minister contradicts the Act of 2006, which complies with the aviation regulation globally. The violation of Aviation Act, which the office of the minister spearheads, is not good for our economy.

She used the office of Director General of NCAA as a cover to create a new directorate called Directorate of General Aviation (GA), Policy and Procedure Manual. This creation is a contravention of the Aviation Act of 2006, section A153 and sub-section 7(A), which list the directorates of the NCAA as approved by the President and National Assembly.