By ISAAC TERSOO AGBER
THE Federal Government has allotted N258 million for the construction of a new private jet terminal at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. Though the aim is to meet the increasing demand for non-scheduled flights as passenger traffic continues to soar at the nation’s capital and other major airports, the decision might cripple the industry that relies more on the Dollar.
National Daily gathered that out of the N50 billion allocated to aviation in the proposed budget, the Transport Ministry has voted N173 million for the construction of a General Aviation Terminal (GAT) at Wing D of the Abuja airport. Meanwhile, building the private jet terminal will gulp about N71.5m, while N13.6m will be invested towards the rehabilitation of the fire station at the airport and a GAT protocol lounge.
It was also reported that the ministry has put forward a plan to construct a new airline office at the airport for N66.5m, while a new Accident and Rescue Centre will be built for N45m, totaling N258 million.
What is not clear, however, is whether the government is lifting a bar for private hands to drive the industry or simply making things difficult for the commercial airliners. Even though the provision of non-scheduled flight services may go a long way in reducing passenger traffic, stakeholders might be wondering whether the government’s decision won’t trigger confusion between the jetliners and the commercial airliners, considering the operational rights granted them by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
It would be recalled that in 2015, the former Minister for Aviation, Osita Chidoka, threatened to slap the jetliners with a $100 thousand fine owing to allegations of operating a “grey market” against the Air Operator Certificate type granted them by the NCAA. Jet owners were handed a 120-day period to align their operations with the required regularisation policy. In a statement issued by the former spokesman of the NCAA, Mr. Fan Ndubuoke, the authority stated that the 90-day proposition was given in an effort to ensure that private jet owners come up with their operational preference in due time. As a result of this, aircraft operations were grounded in order for the aviation authority to approve a substitute operational status for some jetliners found in the habit of betrayal. That way, the NCAA deemed it possible for them to run a legitimate commercial operation corresponding to the authority’s regulation.
It wasn’t the first time that jetliners would step on the toes of regulatory agencies. In 2013, over 20 Nigerian private jet operators embarked on an indefinite strike, following the imposition of a $3000 luxury tax by the country’s airspace management agency (NAMA). Thus, with the benefit of hindsight, government might be making a mistake by allowing more jetliner operators to flourish in the industry.
Another critical issue worth giving a serious thought is that the Nigeria’s aviation industry, from weird experience, is already dazed with the persistent menace of capital flight as the revenue sources are Dollar-based. The government may have considered encouraging low ticket rate carriers to attract many Nigerians to flying. That would definitely boost revenue in the industry and revive the nation’s economy, not depending on private jet operations which will scare away would-be air travelers and continue heightening the value of Dollar against the naira.
Nigeria is said to be one of the leading private jet markets, rivalling the US, UK and China as countries that top the list of bombardier aircraft orders. And, with the new terminal, the jetliners will continue to increase, though in a crippling economy that sees naira falling for the Dollar every day. This, no doubt, would be injurious to struggling commercial operators and the economy, except there is a rethink.