By Patrick Dele Cole
THE airline industry is the most structured: Nigerian Airspace Management Agency NAMA, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria FAAN, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority NCAA, Pilots, Cabin Staff, Ground Handling, Security, etc. are all available and functioning – so what does the minister do? All sectors in this industry are organised: but each subgroup, it is true, it contains too many money making opportunities. And they have all been exploited
No one has the interest of the passengers, even though there are legal provisions for this. No organisation represents passengers: The minister should be that person. This is a catalogue of what Aviation ministers have done. The ministers raid the industry. One wanted to build a hotel on the old car park at the Murtala Muhammed airport; another has two catering companies, another supplies aviation fuel and owns tank farms at the airport.
The ticket is nothing other than a slap on passengers. The Airlines are a law unto themselves – no control, total autonomy – bad food, no standardisation; most people have tickets which the airlines refuse to refund: cannot get a refund even when the airline is at fault, for example, when these, as often happen, cancel flights. The lateness of flights is habitual. I would have thought the Minister, through NCAA should have a daily report of flight movement, lateness, cancellations, etc.
The minister of NCAA ought to be able to sanction airlines for unnecessary lateness or cancellation of flights. There should be a compensation regime when passengers are kept unnecessarily late at airports: if this causes inconvenience, refunds should be immediate. If lateness is unavoidable why should airlines not offer a compensation meal etc. or even accommodate passengers in nearby hotels when the airline is at fault? Now they merely announce that the flight is cancelled.
Why can’t the ticket be used on another route by the same airline? Why the impositions by airline of expiration date of ticket? A passenger may re-use a ticket on the same route within 90 days or the ticket is cancelled. If he/she uses the ticket on the same route the airline surcharges the passengers by as much as 30 per cent.
The problem of passengers is compounded by the fact that the airlines have no offices in town. So to go for a refund, the passenger would have to go to the airport – if he lives in Lekki, he must go to Ikeja which may cost the passenger several thousand Naira. In Abuja or Port Harcourt or Enugu, the distraught ticket holder would have to go to the airport again at his/her own cost. Most passengers travel several more miles to get home e.g. Asaba airport is full of people from Onitsha. Owerri passengers are mostly from Aba; Enugu passengers come from all parts of Enugu State, same situation for Sokoto, Kano, Maiduguri, Gombe etc. How much of the money owned by Airlines is a result of non-refunds? What is the proportion of refunds to income?
Every company or household that use airlines have a large inventory of unclaimed tickets refunds. The attitude of the airlines is dictatorial, haughty and insulting. Imagine what happens to travellers from overseas and have missed their connecting flights, most of these passengers must buy new tickets. The Consumer Protection Law in the United States (US) compels companies to accept returned goods and/or refund money to customers who complain.
A minister built airports in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja through contracts to the Chinese. There are no costs known to Nigerians. How would we pay for these airports? In Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt the construction of these airports is taking inordinately long time. Abuja airport is a mess at the moment. It is a nightmare to find a parking space and woe betide you if it rains. China is a country which knows how to build good airports fast, the airports in China built in preparation for the 2008 Olympic are marvels to behold – whatever they are doing in Nigeria does not compare with anything built in Peking, Shanghai, Guangzhou, etc. The disruption in Lagos and Abuja is simply unacceptable. Our oversight enthusiasts seem to have amnesia so far as aviation is concerned.
The airport plans are unknown and unseen by FAAN or the Aviation Ministry: there are no Nigerians working with the Chinese there, leaving us with the scepter that any breakdown will still have to be fixed by China. Nigeria may want to learn from Sri Lanka where Chinese projects were built at incredible cost and now Sri Lanka is caught in the debt trap. They are forced to sell 80% of the projects to Chinese companies as part of the repayment plan.
Payment by airlines using Nigerian airspace – Bilateral Air Service Agreement BASA, agreements are constantly raided by ministers. The money is substantial. It arises from the BASA agreements, paid entirely in foreign exchange. It was supposed to be managed by NAMA – Nigeria Airspace Management Authority but lodged in the Central Bank. For many years many ministers have sought to control this account but failed until President Jonathan’s administration, when controls passed on directly to the Aviation Ministry. It was immediately raided with no report on what the money was used for. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority received payment from various sources operating in Nigeria including percentages from tickets sold to passengers to and from Nigeria, and tickets from airlines operating in Nigeria. That money is now controlled by the ministry and there is no evidence that it is under the Treasury Single Account TSA, regime.
As for toll gate collection, the public has no knowledge of accountability, no TSA. Concessions for space at the airport, luggage handlers, trolley providers, car hire, shops etc. duty-free, security and profile agencies etc.: are under the control of FAAN, it further charges for establishment of lounges, gates and car parks etc. None of this money goes to Buhari’s TSA. There is no accountability and no published accounts of any of these agencies for the public to see and scrutinise.
Bureau of Public Enterprises BPE, a body set out by law to manage and process all Federal Government concessions; sale of Federal Government Assets etc. is cut out of selling properties in Aviation. The famous two bullet proof BMW’s for the minister were purchased by NCAA. Again the Director General of NCAA should have authority over this money and several other charges made to NCAA.