President Muhammadu Buhari’s massive infrastructural development of the country does not in anyway discriminate against the divides of tribe, religion, region or considerations of party affiliations, etc, etc.
My greatest interest in this piece is to bring to the fore what I consider as important, if not the most important, sector in the PMB administration’s effort to fill in the gaps in the country’s infrastructure.
The gaps were the creation of previous governments in littering the country with uncompleted and abandoned projects which the PMB government had shown the determination, commitment and patriotism to complete, and even embark on new ones.
In consideration of PMB’s concern and love for the Aviation sector, the President swung into action early enough in the life of his administration and brought it under spotlight by appointing a trained Pilot, Hadi Sirika as its Minister.
Top on the list of priorities to turn around the Aviation sector through a home based support programme to give it a facelift, was the upgrade and rehabilitation of existing Airport terminal buildings at Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Maiduguri and Enugu.
Then came the construction of new terminal buildings at Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Port-Harcourt and Enugu International Airports, followed by remodeling of the Kaduna Airport, review of the civil Aviation regulations, completion of the construction of the control towers of Ilorin, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Akure, Ibadan, Enugu and Benin Airports, and construction of accident rescue centres in Abuja and Lagos Airports. Renovation of runway surface of Abuja capital city Airport in record time was speedily approved and executed by the PMB administration.
Due to the dire need to make our airports functional and conform to the sector’s best global practice, the administration of President Buhari also acquired a Boeing 737 flight simulator at the cost of $21million.
.The Federal Government had also announced the designation of four international Airports, as Special Economic Zones.The four Airports are Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja; Port-Harcourt international Airport and Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano.
Minister of Aviation, Captain Hadi Sirika had in a statement disclosed that the decision taken was borne out of the desire to drive the many maximum inherent benefits of the designation and operation of the Airports as special economic zones as well as address issues concerning “taxation, customs duties and fiscal issues” in the Nigerian Aviation industry.
To further add to this magnanimous support, government had requested the Nigerian Export Processing Zone Authority, NEPZA to designate the four major international airports under NEPZA Act.
The request was made so that the benefits of such zones can be accorded all airlines, Airport operators, Aviation support companies among others that reside within the zones which the President had approved.
Other benefits include harnessing the socio-economic benefits derivable from Civil Aviation, generating revenues for Government and creating avenues to mobilize local and foreign direct investments, FDI for the overall growth of the country’s economy.
It is also expected that the designation would attract more international and domestic airlines and world-class organisations into the Nigerian aviation industry to fast track the upgrade and development of new infrastructure/facilities at the nation’s airports. It will in addition reduce the tax burden on Aviation companies to enable them compete internationally.
Government’s ultimate objective was to create around the airports a more efficient and business-friendly trade environment comparable to other countries with less bureaucratic red tapism because of the associated fiscal incentives and packages, in addition to generating employment opportunities and overall human capital development.
Furthermore, it would improve the overall ease of doing business in Nigeria in line with Federal Government’s commitments towards national economic development as contained in an Executive Order signed into law by President Buhari years back.
Another benefit is the generation of additional non-aeronautical sources of revenue for the Aviation Industry as promised at the inception of the Buhari administration.
Records at the Ministry of Aviation also show that the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA has acquired two new automated mobile control towers to serve as backups at both Lagos and Abuja Airports.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has concluded plans to concession all the 22 federal Airports beginning with the big four in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano to enable them function efficiently and profitably.
Government had assured workers that concessioning the Airports will not result in job losses but instead offer an opportunity to engage more hands into the system.
The government has reassured its commitment to the development of an investment-friendly Aviation sector that will not only make Nigeria a regional hub for air transportation but increase its contribution to the national gross domestic product, GDP.
Following the outbreak of the Covid 19 Pandemic in 2020 which brought about a chain of negative consequences, the Nigerian government swiftly and speedily swung into action to nip it in the bud by adopting strategic steps to check its spread and bring succour with numerous palliatives into the lives and livelihoods of individuals, groups and corporate organisations in the country.
Towards this end, the government as part of the palliatives, among other things, delivered a stimulus package to the Aviation Sector to alleviate effects of Covid 19 on its stakeholders.
Beneficiaries of the PMB administration’s financial support of N2.84 billion include 7 airline scheduled operators comprising Dana, Overland, Air Peace, Azman, Aero Contractors, Arik and Max Air; 20 non-scheduled operators comprising Cargo and Private Jet Services who received N949.9 million; 5 ground handling operators including NAHCO, SAHCO, Presion Aviation, Batuke Resources Ltd and Swissport International Ltd who received N233.3 million and the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies which got N196 million.
Others were Airport Car Hire Association of Nigeria, ACHAN which got N196 million; 7 In-Flight Catering Services Operators who got N233.3million and Aviation Fuel Operators who received N233,3million..
Despite the appeal by Government for the cooperation of all relevant stakeholders in the new development to achieve desired goals, regrettably, Airline operators in the country are yet to offset their debt of more than N37 billion.
The government equally flayed Arik Air and Bi-Courtney Aviation, owners of Murtala Mohammed Airport 2, MMA2, over contract implementation.
Aviation Minister had recently told newsmen that Bi-Courteny Limited alone was owing about N14 billion and has so far not remitted a dime to government coffers for 13 years while Arik Air is owing N13 billion.
All the debts were owed to Aviation parastatals, including Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN; Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA; and Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA among others.
The Federal Government, in its concern for the welfare of air passengers in the country, had ordered that airline operators in the country must refund the full cost of travel tickets to passengers after a two-hour delay.
Government’s position on flight delays and cancellations came against the backdrop of public outcry over the phenomenon, especially by air travellers who are constantly left to their fate in the event of domestic and international flight delays and cancellations.
Newspapers reported recently that the government was coming up with stiffer sanctions against flight delays and cancellations in the country.
At a press briefing recently in Abuja, Captain Hadi Sirika did say: “On domestic flights, delay beyond one hour, carrier should provide refreshment, and one telephone call, or one SMS, or one e-mail. They should send you an SMS or email or call you to say, ‘I am sorry, I am delaying for one hour’.
“Delay for two hours and beyond, the carrier shall reimburse passengers the full volume of their tickets.
“Delay between 10pm and 4am, carrier shall provide hotel accommodation, refreshment, meal, two free calls, SMS, email and transport to-and-fro airport.’’
The minister, who noted that the same rules applied for international flights, said his ministry had started sanctioning some airlines who defaulted on consumer rights, but urged passengers not to be unruly at airports.
Indeed President Buhari has done so much and is doing more to improve Air travel in all Airports in the country.
The Airline operators and their stakeholders must reciprocate government’s gesture by making Air travel cheap, safe, convenient and pleasurable to justify the huge investments amounting to more than N1 trillion in the Sector over the last six years.
EMEKA ANYAOKU STREET, ABUJA