The Senate on Monday urged the Federal Government to provide substantial bailout fund to airline operators in the country to revamp the aviation sector in view of the effect of COVID-19 pandemic.
The Chairman of Senate Committee on Aviation, Sen. Smart Adeyemi (APC – Kogi West) made the call in Abuja at a public hearing for a repeal of six executive bills for the aviation agencies.
It was reported that the bills were designed to amend the enabling act establishing the aviation agencies for optimal performance in line with global best practices in aviation sector.
Adeyemi said there was an urgent need to support the airline operators in the country given the effect of COVID-19 on the sector.
He noted that the aviation industry was the fastest-growing sector of the Nigerian economy in spite the setback caused by the COVID -19 pandemic.
“Let me take this unique opportunity to call on the Federal Government to explore the possibility of providing bailout funds for the airline operators.
“The outbreak of the COVID -19 is a global and on-going pandemic and countries all over the world are providing bailout funds for airline operators.
“Certainly, the aviation industry was the most affected by this virus attack and therefore need all the support possible to resuscitate the Industry.
“In the absence of this, so many airlines will struggle to stay in business or worst still, be forced to withdraw their services.
“Bailout funds will mitigate the devastating and also discourage operators from cutting corners as the consequences can only be better imagined.”
Adeyemi said the essence of the public hearing was to garner input, encourage cross fertilisation of ideas based on experience of technocrats from the aviation industry.
“We must do this constructively by putting to maximal use, our individual and collective skills and knowledge towards these bills which are fundamental to the development of the aviation industry
“The repeal and re-enactment of these six executive bills are aimed at enhancing the operational framework and removal of the seeming ambiguities that inhibit the international best practices within the air transport sector.
“The aviation industry is a dynamic world in itself. Consequently, continuous changes and upgrades must be made to meet safety needs and promote economic growth.
“We must, therefore, continue to strive to go beyond expectations if we are to achieve the best aviation solutions possible,” he said.
He said issues of safety, poor regulatory functions, viability, operational costs and affordability amongst others should be addressed urgently.
“There must be responsiveness to the needs of the people and accuracy to procedures so as to ensure that the industry is the most effective, secure and safe means of transportation in Nigeria,” he added.
On his part, the Minister for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika said that the Federal Government has approved the release of Four billion naira for the airline operators to cushion effect of COVID-19 pandemic on their operations.
He also said additional One billion naira had also been approved for other business operators in the sector.
According to him, modalities were being worked out to disburse the fund to the operators.
Sirika said, although the sector was experiencing its share of challenges, efforts were on to further move the sector forward through the implementation of the aviation road map.
“We are implementing the aviation road map approved by Mr President and we are seeing the result of the road map.
“Aviation happened to be the second fastest growing sector of the economy in 2018 and in 2019 it became the fastest growing sector in Nigerian economy.
“These are figures from Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning and National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).”
He also said that the airline operators in the country were not remitting the fund due to his ministry, emphasising that Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) operates on cost of recovery basis.
Sirika said that government was currently being owed substantial amount of money running into billions of Naira by the airline operators in the country.
“These are monies that should be remitted to us to enable us to operate and train more inspectors to ensure safety.”
Contributing, the representative of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Mr Chinasa Unaegburam, called for a downward review of the five per cent charged airline operators by the Ministry of Aviation.
She also called for the inclusion of a representative of the airline operators on the board of NCAA.
Uaegburam said the issue of money owed by airline operators should be a matter that could be resolved by the Federal Government and the airline operators.