Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has vehemently debunked the claimed that it owed the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) over N8 billion in en-route and navigational charges for about 15 years.
Rather, the operators accused the agency’s staff, especially its management, of corrupt practices, inefficiency and living an exuberant lifestyle.
Speaking with aviation journalists in Lagos today, the Chairman of AON, Captain Nogie Meggison, insisted that its members were not indebted to NAMA to the tune of N8 billion as claimed by the management.
He advised the aviation agencies especially NAMA to tread cautiously in its attempt to recover the alleged debts from the domestic airline operators and described the so-called debts as phantom.
He warned that if the method of denying the airlines services continued, the agency would soon run the airlines out of business as it did in the past with defunct carriers like Triax, Sosoliso, Air Nigeria, Premium Air Shuttle, Gas, Okada, Sahara, Oriental, Chanchangi, Savanah, Harco, Harka, Holtrade, Intercontinental, Skyline, Easylink, Chrome Air, Fresh Air, ADC, EAS and Virgin Nigeria among others.
He added, “Majority of these phantom debts are owed by airlines that are dead. Only airlines that are in operations can pay debts. If you deny services to the airlines how do you expect them to operate and make money to pay up their bills in the first place? Instead of forcing the airlines out of business by denying them access to fly or employing crude arm-twisting tactics, the agencies should be working closely with the airlines to reduce costs and make their operations more efficient.
“Also not surprising, there have been several allegations of financial impropriety involving some staff of the agency to the tune of huge sums of monies in billions of Naira that are currently being arrested and investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
“It must be stressed that NAMA’s primary/Sole duty is to provide air navigation services. Sadly, as of today, NAMA has about 300 Air Traffic Controllers with a staff strength of over 4,807 Staff. The airlines, therefore, cannot continue to pay for their inefficiency and exuberant lifestyle.
“Airlines operators of Nigeria are responsible citizens that believe in Nigeria and we have taken loans to invest into our beloved country. We believe in the principles of fairness and accountability. To this end, we therefore call on the agencies to forge a fair and realistic approach to address the matter.”
Mr. Meggison recalled that a former Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Fidelia Njeze had intervened and cancelled the pre-judgment bills with respect to navigational and en-route charges, which were on record both with the Federal Ministry of Aviation and NAMA.
He maintained that domestic airlines worldwide do not pay en-route charges and wondered why that could not be replicated in Nigeria.
He explained that the total radar coverage and en-route navigation were not in operation in 2001 while airlines were mandated by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to use Global Positioning System (GPS) for navigation, which was independent of NAMA, but expressed surprise that the agency still claimed revenues for such.
“The current economic downturn being experienced in the country will cripple any airline that is expected to pay the already cancelled debts. However, the few surviving AON members are ready to pay their currently existing bills,” he added.
He observed that in Nigeria, rather than for the government to assist the domestic airlines as is presently being witnessed in Ghana with the reduction of aviation fuel by 20 percent to operators, the price of the product had continued to skyrocket consistently from N105 in March to over N200 in the Nigerian market today.
He maintained that aviation fuel alone accounted for about 40 percent of the operational cost of most airlines, noting that with the continuous increase in the price of Jet A1 amidst the scarcity and epileptic supply of the product, the operational costs of domestic airlines had further grown astronomically thereby leading to about 50 percent flight delays and cancellations of scheduled flights for a day.