The Senate on Monday called on the Federal Government to take steps to avert what it described as looming danger in the aviation sector as a result of scarcity of maintenance parts for commercial airlines in the country.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Smart Adeyemi (Kogi West), made the call at a press conference in Abuja.
Adeyemi said that his outcry was premised on the information his Committee gathered from aviation stakeholders during its recently concluded public hearing on six aviation bills sponsored by the executive.
He lamented that the clearance of aircraft maintenance parts imported by airlines are being unduly delayed at the nation’s ports due to prohibitive import duties being demanded by the Nigeria Customs Service.
He warned the Federal Government not to wait for any emergency to occur in the aviation sector before prevailing on the Nigeria Customs Service to allow airlines to clear their spare parts which are critical to smooth flying and safer skies in the country.
He said it would be disastrous for airline operators to be allowed to cut corners by attempting to manage their aircraft now lacking essential spare parts.
He also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to consider an upward review of the N4billion bailout already earmarked by the Federal Government for aviation sector to N50billion.
Adeyemi said: “I want to put it on record that there is danger in flying in Nigeria today. There are instances of some planes skidding off the runway.
“We must support the airline operators pending when we have our own national carrier.
“But if we want to continue with the operators like most nations are doing today, we cannot afford to leave them on their own, because they will want to be in business and struggle to make profit, and by extension, there will be cutting of corners.
In most nations there are special considerations for airline operators because they must not cut corners.
“If the part is needed in three weeks’ time and it is not available and the operators decide to be managing, well you know what will happen.
“Let me explain what they are doing in some African countries so that you can understand what we are saying, because when you are convinced with your facts we would say these are the facts that we have gathered.
“It is left for those who are in the industry to dispute our position but these are the information we have gathered.”
He listed the observations made by his Committee during the public hearing to include the following:
“The Nigeria Customs Service has not complied with the Executive Order to waive any form of taxation on importation of spare parts for commercial aircraft.
“It has been discovered that there are still multiple forms of taxation persisting.
“There has also been non-compliance to the Executive Order on the removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) from air transport.
“The inability of the airline operators to have access to single digit lending as obtainable in other parts of the world.
“The inability of the airline operators to access foreign exchange as and at when due to enable them pay the VAT for their aircrafts.”
He added: “You would recall that the Federal Governor, having considered the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the aviation industry, with a view to maintaining smooth operations, made the sum of N4 billion available as a bailout to these airline operators.
“With further and more critical intervention with airline operators in Nigeria, we gathered that approximately N50billion will be required to meet the requirements of airline operators.
“This increase in bailout fund is imperative if we are to keep our economy running, guarantee job security and mitigate retrenchment.
“A critical look at the aviation industry in Africa, Senagal for instance which is no competition for the Nigerian Aviation industry, in terms of number of airline operators etc, released a sum of $74 million as bail out funds for their Airline Operators. Rwanda also released $150 million for its airline operators.
“Taking the scope out of Africa, America for instance, released the sum of $58 billion as bailout funds for its airline operators. This is to mention a few.
“If comparative analysis is anything to go by, it is clear that the N4billion announced by the Federal Government as bailout funds for airline operators will not be sufficient to sustain three of the needs of the 15 scheduled flight operators, save the non-scheduled operators.
“Our further enquiry has also shown that airline operators are already discouraged and have resorted to cutting corners in carrying out maintenance requirements on their aircrafts.
“This is, of course, as a result of their poor financial situation. If this is not immediately checked, the effect is best not imagined.
“Something more definite has to be done to help the airlines respond to the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
“As duly elected representatives of the people, we are mandated to take seriously any issue which may have adverse effects on the lives of the people we represent.
“Where we see red flags, we should immediately bring this to the attention of the people and ultimately, the Federal Government.
“It is important to note that the safety recorded so far in the aviation industry in Nigeria is primarily due to the availability of the spare parts, and a conducive atmosphere to operate.
“Let us note that no amount of money is worth the life of even one Nigerian and it is on this note that we call the immediate and urgent attention of the Federal Government on the need for the increase on bailout funds for air line operators.
As a Legislature, we strongly advice the Nigerian Government to run a tax free, VAT free process for all spare parts and commercial aircrafts being imported to Nigeria.
“This will help in accelerating economic growth even in the face of a recession confronting nations of the world today, while helping the airlines stay afloat with an end goal to ensuring the safety of passengers.”