COVID-19: FG’s N5bn Bailout For Airline Operators Inadequate


BY BODE GBADEBO, Abuja

The Senate has called on the Federal Government to give a more substantive bailout fund to Nigerian airline operators by increasing the already approved N5bn bailout for them in order to keep them in the business and as well prevent them from shortchanging customers.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Smart Adeyemi (APC, Kogi West), made the call on Monday at the opening of a three-day public hearing on the six executive Bills meant to rejig the operations of some civil aviation agencies in the country.

The public hearing, which was graced by retired experts, stakeholders in the Aviation sector and the general public, was declared opened by Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, who was represented by the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Ajayi Boroffice.

The Bills before the Senate for consideration seek to repeal and reenact laws establishing the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), while the sixth Bill is for the establishment of a new Safety Investigation Bureau, which will cover Aviation, Marine and Road transportation.

“I sincerely hope that at the end of this exercise, the new Bills when passed, will be widely acceptable, bring about operational improvements, increase efficiency, flexibility and harmonization of procedures within the Industry. In so doing, we would have set a standard for Acts that will stand the test of time.

“Let me take this unique opportunity to call on the Federal Government to explore the possibility of providing bailout funds for the Airline Operators.

“The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus is a global and ongoing pandemic and countries all over the world are providing bailout funds for airline operators. Certainly, the aviation industry was the most affected by this virus attack and therefore need all the support possible to resuscitate the Industry,” Adeyemi said.

He added that the bailout fund become imperative as it will mitigate the devastating effects of COVID-19 and also discourage operators from cutting corners as the consequences can only be better imagined than experienced.

Responding, Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, revealed that the Federal Government would soon start the disbursement of a N5bn bailout fund already approved for the operators of the Aviation sector.

The Minister said the airline operators would get N4bn while other businesses in the sector would be given N1bn to cushion the effects of COVID-19 pandemic.
But, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Adeyemi, told Sirika that the sum of N4bn bailout fund earmarked for airline operators was inadequate given what was lost to the pandemic.

“Let’s look at the cost of spare parts for the airlines and duties that they perform. Though, we might argue that the business is a private one, but it is centred around safety. The N4billion approved for the airlines by the Federal Government is too little to make any impact on the operations of the airlines.

“If you want to keep the airlines in business and you don’t want them to start cutting corners, there is need to look at the airlines with a view to giving them substantive support. If they start cutting corners, that will be worse for the industry. We may not be professionals in the sector, but we know how some of the airlines outside the country operate.

“The role of aviation cannot the over-emphasised. Minister, you have a role to play to take the issues of the airline operators to the Federal Executive Council (FEC). I don’t know if the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is here, but, they too have a role to play to ensure safety in the sector,” Adeyemi said.

Meanwhile, there was a mild drama when the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) took its turn to make presentation at the hearing. The Minister of Aviation tried to stop them by way of a point of order.

Sirika, a trained Pilot and former federal lawmaker, told the Senate Committee not to allow AON make its presentation at the public hearing, saying the group had approached a court to stop the hearing.

AON representative, however, denied going to court to stop the Senate public hearing even as the group called for reduction of charges and abrogation of certain rules by regulators. But a dissatisfied Sirika, insisted that the airline operators has nothing to say since the group was highly indebted to NCAA, thereby impeding smooth operations of the agency.

“We have concerns and they are very genuine. NCAA operates on cost recovery basis. They (AON) are owing us 6 million, 993 thousand, 234 dollars and 19billion, 365 million, 374 thousand 686 naira. She is proposing that the percentage goes down and the money is not there.

“These are monies we get from tickets and they ought to be remitting this money so that we can train more inspectors and keep the industry safe,” Sirika.

However, members of the Senate Committee on Aviation told the Minister to allow the group as a stakeholder to express its view on happenings in the Aviation sector.

For his part, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi South) said, “I was thinking this is the best opportunity provided for all the stakeholders to air whatever they feel so we can begin to get it right. We know clearly we are not on course. Honourable Minister we have to try as much as we can to encourage stakeholders to tell where their situation is. We can’t continue the way we are going.”


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