The Nigeria’s aviation industry is hypnotized by too many taxes against the progress of airlines. The airports are not well managed and the local content is neglected in favor of expatriates. These must be reversed as government plans to review aviation policy; Chris Aligbe bares his mind to Isaac Tersoo Agber. Excerpts:
AS the government decides to review aviation policy, what would you recommend?
Aviation policy is a very big document that encompasses a lot of statutes, operational guidelines for both the airlines and the agencies, including regulatory benchmarks. It requires a lot of time, consultations and cross-variation checks to be able to put the right document together. But for the government to get it right, it must first recognize that our aviation industry is at an infant stage. I have said this severally but people don’t want to take it serious. I thank God that somebody mentioned it at the recent Aviation Round Table seminar.
The government must realize that the industry is infant for it to decide what policy is best for it at this stage. And like I have always said, you can’t give an infant food that is meant for adult. If you do, the infant may choke to death. Let the government declare 10 years free tax holiday for all the indigenous airlines, assuming that they are all infants. Let there be waivers in tax, customs duties, parking fees and even down to fuel prices and ticket sales.
One thing the government must not forget is how Nigeria Airways collapsed just after few years in operation. The major pitfall was gross mismanagement by unscrupulous individuals who lacked the discipline to manage public property. Those pitfalls should be carefully avoided especially now that plans are underway for a national carrier. Is it going to be a government thing like before? Then I can assure you that it won’t stand the test of time because we don’t have the discipline. But if the private sector is involved, the airline may run smoothly. Not just the airlines; in fact, every sector of an industry is well driven by private hands who have joint stakes, and each tries to protect the interest of the industry.
What would you say about our airports being rated among world’s worst?
Even the airports should be concessioned. I have always spoken against managing all the nation’s airports from a central position. I am not against FAAN for whatever they are doing neither am I saying the agency should be scrapped; they can still be there as a regulatory authority but the management of business activities and building of structures should be contracted to private hands like what Bi-Courtney is doing. People are talking about zoning management of the airports but I wonder where that is going to take us and what good difference will it make? Airports all over the world are managed by private companies; go and find out.
Apart from having good airports, viable airlines will qualify Nigeria for a hub. How viable are our airlines? When people complain that Ethiopian is coming to Lagos… going to Enugu…while South African Airways is also coming to Lagos and now going to Abuja, I ask “what would they have done?” They requested for more entry points and it was granted by the government. Our airlines can equally request for such rights in foreign countries and it will be granted; it can’t be denied. But how many of Nigerian carriers are now going more than one entry point out there? Apart from Arik, MedView started flying London route recently, stopping at Gatwick Southern Airport Terminal. But as time goes on, the airline may apply for either a Manchester slot or any other point in the UK, and it will be granted; no doubt about that.
The only thing government must do is to help the airlines grow, whether the national carrier or flag carriers. By the time Nigerian airlines begin to register multiple entry points in other countries, and then we will know that the industry is progressing.
Virgin Atlantic recently laid off some Nigerians. What can you advise the government about this?
The issue of Virgin Atlantic and laid off staff, who happen to be Nigerians, is pathetic but must not be politicized. The airline has the right to hire and fire just like every other airline. It is just unfortunate that it involved Nigerians, and given the kind of relationship we had with Virgin in the past, one would have expected some understanding on the part of the airline. But that should be another lesson the Nigerian government must work against. If you check, most of the foreign airlines don’t employ Nigerians even as crew members. Is it United? Is it British Airways? Not even the African carriers like Ethiopian or SAA. The best you can get from them is ground handling service. They must have a reason for that but what I understand is that they are helping their own. So we must also begin to reason that way and stop flooding the industry with too many expatriates at the detriment of our own.