NIGERIA’S aviation sector has again been engulfed in controversy created by the recent declaration by the Chairman, Senate Committee on aviation, Senator Adeyemi Smart, that there was danger in flying in Nigeria today and that the Nigerian airlines may start cutting corners if the federal government failed to assist them.
Senator Adeyemi while briefing journalists on the outcome of the public hearing held between November 2 and November 4, 2020, in the course of passing six executive bills, spoke on sundry issues affecting the sector, particularly the domestic airlines.
Such issues which have hampered the performances of the airlines he said include: failure of the Nigeria Customs to comply with the executive order to waive any form of taxation on importation of spare parts on commercial aircraft, multiple forms of taxation, non-compliance with the executive order on removal of Value Added Tax from air transport and the inability of airline operators to have access to single digit lending, among others.
In his genuine interest for a virile domestic airline business in the country, the Senator who had earlier faulted the N4 billion bailout promised by the federal government to the airlines as insignificant compared to the huge financial commitment airline business requires, suggested a N50 billion bailout as adequate for the airline operators.
While the Senator can never be wrong in supporting the Nigerian airlines, he however, got carried away in his zeal to sell the predicaments facing the operators to the executive arm of government for urgent action when he described flying in the country as dangerous.
Innocently, the Senator may have not meant any harm, but he failed to realize the sensitive nature and the heavy weight that such little statement carried on the entire aviation sector at this critical period.
Besides the negative image his declaration has brought on the entire country, particularly air safety which is a global practice, that short statement is a deep indictment on the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigeria’s aviation regulatory body on whose shoulder rests the role of enforcing safety compliance on the airlines, sister agencies and other related key players.
His usage of the phrase ‘cutting corners’ brought back the bad memory of how the phrase became synonymous with the Nigerian operators during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo which led to the introduction of many positive policies which greatly helped in strengthening airline business in the country.
Since that period, though Nigeria is not yet there, domestic airline business, despite different distractions, has recorded abundant growth as witnessed in the five years zero accident record for the sector.
While the NCAA as a regulatory body is still lagging behind in fully expressing itself, the efforts so far made by the relevant aviation authorities including the minister of aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, has made it almost impossible for any airline to attempt to cut corners considering the overwhelming consequences awaiting such an operator.
Therefore, to allege that the airlines will cut corners due to the non release of adequate bailout package and make flying dangerous is very inappropriate coming at a time the Covid-19 pandemic had already and still unleashing serious havoc on air transport apart from other previous challenges which have drastically reduced the urge to fly and sent many airlines packing.
Despite the uncooperative attitude of the federal government towards the Nigerian airlines, and for the fact that many of them are still struggling to keep the airline business afloat, talking about corner cutting this time is not fair to the airline operators.
As good as the passion of the Senator towards the airlines is, describing flying in the country today as dangerous, rather than help the airlines, will only contribute to their untimely death as such declaration is capable of scaring away the few travelers that still patronize air transport.
It’s good that the airlines themselves have quickly come out to refute the claim of the Senator which though for obvious reasons may not have much impact on the already negative notion the senator’s comment might have caused.
While the contributions of the Senator towards making the entire sector more efficient and effective as witnessed in the various bills receiving attention from the senate committee on aviation can never be forgotten, it will however do the sector good if the political class would exercise caution when talking on issues affecting the sector which is managed in line with global standards and recommended practices.
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