Nigerian airline operators have reacted angrily to the position of Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, on their N516 billion indebtedness to firms and agencies in the aviation sector.
The Chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Nogie Meggisson, who briefed newsmen in Lagos on Sunday, faulted the minister’s claims, describing it as unverified.
Sirika had reportedly said that Nigerian airlines were ridden with debts, weak and unable to compete and take advantage of the newly inaugurated Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM).
But Meggison, however, said that the minister was reeling out figures offhand, stressing that he could not prove any of the debts he mentioned.
The AON chairman said Nigerian aviation agencies lacked the ability to transparently record their revenues and document accurately the debts owed them by the airlines.
Meggisson said, “We have always asked them to list the debts. It is easy to call numbers. Let those we owe bring their bills and explain the debts.
“Although government cannot be held responsible for the operation of privately owned airlines, but the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) is competing with airlines, running two airlines with tax payers’ funds.
“So, we don’t have a level playing ground because AMCON is a competitor, using the taxes we pay to compete with us. When are they going to leave the airline industry?”
He said accruing of debts was normal in the aviation industry because airline operations were a continuous business and the debts were usually settled between airlines and service providers from time to time.
“Talking about debts, airline business is not a cash business. You accrue the charges, you are presented a bill and you pay.
“There is no airline in this world that does not owe,” Meggison said.
On SAATM, the AON chairman urged the Africa Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) to provide a level playing field by ensuring uniform charges by signatory countries.
According to him, an airline in Nigeria borrows money at 24 per cent interest rate, pay five per cent to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and also five per cent Value Added Tax (VAT).
He said these charges are however, waived by government of other countries for their own airlines.