There are two key issues stopping more Nigerians from travelling by air. One is low purchasing power of average Nigerian and two is relatively high cost of air ticket.
Currently the number of Nigerians that travel by air is lower than one per cent of the projected 200 million population; so if five per cent of the population could travel by air, Nigeria will have very robust air travel market.
Although Nigerian airlines have not connected potential intercity markets like Warri-Port Harcourt, Kano-Enugu, Yola-Kano and other possible destinations, but the major challenge is how air ticket could be affordable to many Nigerians.
This issue was raised at the Senate Committee on Aviation public hearing on the amendment of aviation agencies Acts last week by the Managing Director of Overland Airways Limited, Captain Edward Boyo.
He complained that airfares are high because of huge taxes built into the tickets and high cost of operations, including cost of aviation fuel and others.
He criticised the proponents of the zoning and classification of airports that suggested that travellers should pay more if they use Lagos airport and pay less if they use Owerri airport, for example, saying that all airports have similar costs.
“We have a population of 200 million, why can’t the common man fly in Nigeria? We talk of zoning airports; respectfully we are not zoning any airport in Nigeria. Every airport has the same goal, with similar cost because we have a centralised airport system unless we are going to dismantle it.
“Every Nigerian has a right to travel to his own destination at equal cost; after all, a mobile phone call here is the same price as a mobile to my grandfather in Maiduguri as of today. So we must look at bringing down costs.
“Our distinguished Senate needs to address and direct the overwhelming powers of the executive arm of government in a direction favourable to the people.
“The laws you make will shape tomorrow and the future. Let me say this, the National Assembly is the hope of the common man. Airline operators today are suffering, that is why the Senate must ask the executive why are airlines dying in Nigeria?
“Over 100 airlines, if am correct, have died in the last few years. So it is good that we are modifying the laws today. It is our hope that these new laws you are going to make will support the existence of the ordinary Nigerians not the existence of us in this room (VIPs) that can afford everything,” Boyo said.
He noted that Nigerian airlines are severely criticised by labour, aviation agencies and their proxies that other Nigerians have developed negative perception of Nigerian carriers.
“The body language of this assembly has demonstrated the apathy towards airlines. They see airlines as companies that collect money and don’t remit to the agencies, to the extent that the direction this bill is going or some of the bills we have listened to is to jail airline proprietors for not paying monies that they have not even collected,” he said.
He urged that government should review charges in air transport downwards so that the cost of tickets would come down and more Nigerians would be able to travel by air.
“One of the things the upper and the lower chambers of the National Assembly have to look at is the efficiency within these agencies. We are sponsoring and paying for their inefficiencies as well as their efficiencies, translating to bogus cost of operation of our airlines. Without the airlines, many people will not be here today but we are here.
“And what are we giving in return? Nothing. The airlines pay for the ticket five per cent charge to NCAA, we pay five per cent for VAT, we pay N2,000 on every passenger. We pay company income tax, pay education tax, pay navigation and terminal tax, pay security tax; we pay fuel tax, we pay local government tax. The fees just keep going on,” he said.
Boyo warned that more airlines would go under if the aviation agencies and the government continue to charge the airlines high taxes and fees, noting that the founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways, Richard Branson who established a subsidiary in Nigeria, Virgin Nigeria Airways, had to leave the country because of unfavourable government policies.
“They want to continue to charge the airlines and they are all dying. Very soon there will be no airlines in Nigeria. Even the planned national carrier, if it is set up to operate in a hostile environment as we have today, it will not survive. Richard Branson came to Nigeria, he has been successful all over the world, but he failed in Nigeria. So there is something in the environment that is killing the airlines,” the Managing Director of Overland Airways said.