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Amid COVID-19, domestic air travel shows quick recovery

NCAA, airlines in N5bn debts reconciliation
Insecurity fuels air connectivity

With the increase in the number of airlines in operations and about four others that are on the verge of securing their all-important Air Operators Certificate (AOC), Nigeria is seeing a boom in domestic airline operations despite the ravaging impact of COVID-19 on aviation and travels. Amid the gloom of the pandemic, domestic carriers are said to be on their way to recovery with more interconnectivity by the carriers linking remote airports to the others; a new strategy to bring air travel to every part of the country.

Investigation by New Telegraph shows that insecurity more than anything is fueling the desire by many to take to air travel even to the shortest of distance by air despite the astronomical cost of air travel, which has doubled and in some cases tripled compared to the pre-COVID- 19 period. While airports are opening up in many places like Anambra, Bayelsa and others, the desire to connect these aerodromes is high with short distances like Lagos to Ibadan, Ibadan to Ilorin, Ibadan to Akure, Abuja to Kaduna, Asaba to Port-Harcourt among others that are not helped by the high level kidnapping on the roads. Aside from that, the interconnectivity between two cities that were, hitherto, not operated which travelers found difficult to connect are now available. A few months back, Air Peace, Azman, Arik, United Nigeria flagged off Benin- PH-Benin, Kano-PH-Kano and Kano-Asaba-Kano connections to abate the transportation stress of residents in these cities and give them more network options.

The Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu, in an interactive section with some group of journalists in Lagos on Monday, said: “We have a situation where people can travel to one of the countries to another part. We are already at that point. “I can travel from Asaba to Kano; you can go to Bau-chi, you can go to Gombe. It is really amazing. We have airports that a lot of state governments are making sure are popping up all over the place.

That has increased activities within specific period and NCAA as a regulator of the industry; we have a lot of responsibilities that put enormous pressure on us.” Nuhu admitted that the industry is witnessing growth with many startup airlines with existing ones expanding, adding, “it is going to get much better. It is amazing. We have airports popping up everywhere. Our surveillance programme has increased; our workload has also increased.” The NCAA Director- General denounced insinuations that the aviation regulatory body had written off the over N5 billion debts owed by airlines, saying he had no powers to write-off debts owed by airlines. He, however, disclosed that the agency was holding discussions with the debtor carriers, who have shown seriousness to reconcile their debts, an amount he failed to disclose.

There are reports that many of the carriers owe the NCAA over N5b for on non-remittance of five per cent Ticket, Cargo, and Charter Sales Charges (TSA/TCA). Nuhu further explained that the NCAA and the carriers needed to sit to reconcile, stressing that the aviation regulatory body had put up a process that carriers settled all their outstanding debts by not adding to the accumulation of the legacy debts. His words: “I don’t want to give you a wrong figure of what the airlines owe. Even, the legacy debt, when you say something, the airlines will disagree with you on the figures you sent out. We need to sit down, do reconciliation with them. There is this reconciliation meeting that is ongoing with the airlines and that is why I don’t want to give a figure that I won’t be able to substantiate.

The President and the Vice President of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) met us on the debt issue and we are working on that. “I cannot write off any debt; I do not have the authority to write off a Federal Government’s debt without the approval of the appropriate authorities. You see, we have to keep doing the reconciliation once the debts keep growing, but now, we have to stop the debts from growing. If we did reconciliation in 2020 and the debts are still growing, I have to do another reconciliation. But now, we have drawn a line by insisting everyone has to come in fresh. Some are paying and some have given us the timetable for payment.

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