The Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu has said the federal government is doing everything possible to resolve the current crisis in aviation.
For the past six months airlines have been battling with high cost of aviation fuel, which spiraled the cost of air tickets.
Also, due to the scarcity of forex, operators have been finding it very difficult to take their aircraft overseas for maintenance.
The reduction in the number of aircraft has also thrown up a challenge of limited supply of seats to meet the demand of air travellers, a situation that further increased the cost of flight tickets.
The Director General on Wednesday said the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika had been meeting with the Minister of Finance, the Senate, and House Committees Chairmen on Aviation and other stakeholders to see how they could urgently resolve the crisis.
The crux of discussion, THISDAY learnt, was how to make dollars available for airlines to ferry their aircraft overseas for maintenance to ensure that airlines continue to operate safely.
Nigeria is also struggling to pay foreign airlines their revenues, which have been blocked in Nigeria due to paucity of forex, as Nigeria has been identified by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as holding back the highest amount of the revenues, put at over $500 million.
Nuhu lamented that aviation fuel has become the highest cost component in the operation of airlines and said that unless something is done urgently, air transport may be threatened in Nigeria.
“The Minister of Aviation has stepped in to resolve this problem. Efforts are being made to see how some form of alleviation can come to the airlines. We do not refine Jet A1 (aviation fuel) in Nigeria. They are all imported. Ukraine war and the depreciation of the naira have affected the supply and the cost of the product. Dollar is not readily available for the airlines. So the Minister and the Committees in the National Assembly with all relevant organisations are working together to resolve the matter. Efforts are being made meetings are taking place so that we will get a kind of solution that will bring respite to the industry,” Nuhu said.
He however noted that the crisis in the aviation sector cannot be isolated from all the other sectors of the economy, remarking that resolving the issues in the industry has become paramount because air travel has become the choice for many Nigerians, especially now that travel by other means is being threatened by insecurity.
He also said that despite all the efforts being made to improve air travel, safety remains very critical and NCAA would do everything possible to ensure that airlines continue to operate safely.
On flight delays, which has become worse since the scarcity and high cost of aviation fuel, he said that aviation fuel is not evenly distributed in every part of the country, disclosing that while it is available in Lagos, it is scarce in many other parts of the country, so waiting for the product could delay airlines from operating their flights as scheduled.
“Initial report is that Jet A1 is available in Lagos but scarce in other parts of the country. This problem is coupled with the fact that marketers demand cash before they sell the product to airlines, as some of them have outstanding debts with the marketers. I am not trying to excuse the airlines. There is no excuses; passengers should not be delayed and if passengers are delayed they must be compensated in accordance to the directives in our passenger bill of rights,” he said.
Acknowledging the efforts of the airlines, the Director General said airlines were set up as businesses, and as businesses the objective is to make profits, but regretted that the airlines have found themselves in the situation where they are struggling to survive.
“It is unfortunate that ticket prices are high, but this is business and the airlines expect some profits but this is the way it is now. But I would rather shut down an airline than to compromise safety. We in NCAA cannot provide forex but we are working together with the Ministers of Aviation and Finance to see how the situation could be improved, but as I said earlier, the situation in the aviation industry should not be isolated from the other sectors of the economy,” he said.
Nuhu regretted that almost all the aircraft have to be flown out of the country to conduct major aircraft maintenance and now that some aircraft are due for maintenance there would be less number of seats so it is envisaged that there should be increase in fares.
Out of 10 existing airlines on schedule services, Aero suspended its operations recently, while NCAA grounded that of Dana Air, thus bringing the number of airlines in operation to eight.
The NCAA Director General said the authority is currently carrying out financial and economic audit on the airlines to ensure that despite the challenges besetting the industry, the airlines operate safely.
“We are not policemen so we don’t police the airlines. We work together as partners, but our objective is to ensure that airlines operate safely. We work with them and give them the assistance they require. Failure is not an option,” he said.