How Nigerian airlines can navigate out of skyrocketing debt traps – NCAA DG

NCAA DG Captain Musa Nuhu

That operating airlines in Nigeria owe industry agencies and other companies huge debts over the years and their inability to pay has been a dilemma is stating the obvious. 

However, in this interview, Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Captain Musa Nuhu, offers insight into how the agency is blocking those debts from skyrocketing. He spoke to SULEIMAN IDRIS. 

The certification of Lagos and Abuja airports 

Lagos and Abuja were certified a few years ago and presently, they are going through recertification. There has been some progress. We have a few gaps that are to be closed. Some have been closed. We are in the process of closing them and new gaps have come.

So, we are working closely with the management of FAAN to close those gaps so that the recertification process can be completed as soon as possible.

What are the requirements for this exercise? 

Some of the projects they have to do are quite capital intensive, but we are working on them and I think we are getting some assistance from the ministry to give them the support on those heavy items that they need to do.

What about other airports? 

We are also talking on initial certification for Port Harcourt, Enugu and Kano Airports. All the international airports have to be certified. It is quite a big project to certify five airports; two initials and three recertification. It is quite a heavy load to be done, but hopefully, we will get them by as soon as possible.

How did the authorities arrive at a new ground handling charges/rates? 

Those charges were done after consultations with the foreign, domestic airlines and ground handlers. The NCAA did not just wake up and put figures together. We had consultative meetings with all the parties involved.

Why should I be charging $300 in Nigeria and neighbouring countries are charging $4,000 and you expect the ground handlers to give you the same service? That is not possible. Those charges are a reflection of what is in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region. So, the NCAA didn’t just wake up to come out with the charges, but significant consultative meetings with everyone like the Aviation Ground Handling Association of Nigeria (AGHAN), Airline Operators Committee (AOC), Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) and the Ministry of Aviation. It was agreed by everyone and we implemented the figures as agreed by all the parties involved.

How far is the integration to NCAA’s portal by airlines, especially the domestic carriers on the remittance of the 5 per cent Ticket Sales Charge/Cargo Sales Charge (TSA/CSC)?

Almost all the airlines have integrated. What we have done now is that if you coming in, you won’t be given an Air Operators’ Certificate (AOC) until you sign the tripartite agreement on the integration to the portal. This will save us a lot of challenges we are facing at the moment on the debt. Also, if you are renewing your AOC, too, we ensure that you must have signed that.

What we do now is that we have stopped the growth of the debt. There is a legacy debt. We are working with airlines to come out with their plans and a lot of them have come out with their plans and very soon we are going to be talking to them one by one on how they are going to settle their old debts.

We know, we are all facing a difficult time, but also, you must have a visible plan on how to settle this debt. Maybe one or two airlines are in the process of integrating into the portal, and I think that should not be an issue.

How much is the legacy debt? 

I don’t want to give you a wrong figure. 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.

Any possible right off for the airlines?

 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 newly. Some are paying and some have given us the timetable for payment.

Can’t all these debts be paid once and for all? 

if we say they should come and pay, all the airlines will close shop, but what have we achieved with that at the end of the day? Don’t forget, we are to also help to promote the growth of the industry as much as we want our money and we want the airlines to pay back the government money.

What is the true position about Port Harcourt Airport?

What were the reasons given for the airport to be shut down? This is a report from my Regional Manager in Port Harcourt. Yes, there are some issues there, but a lot of the issues that were mentioned have been addressed. Some of the people were talking of the Instrument Landing System (ILS); the mandatory flight calibration and navigation were carried out on August 29, 2021. It is unfortunate and I wish people will clarify certain information before going to the public. Some of the information you have may be outdated, but we do appreciate people talking and raising those issues. Sometimes, they show you something you don’t see and you need to work on them.

They also said we have issues of cows straying into the airport regularly, but the last issue of cows we had at the airport was about 16 years ago. Since then, officially, the NCAA has never had any such issue.

Like I said earlier, Port Harcourt Airport is one of the airports we want to carry out certification on and one of the issues raised is on the fences there. The fences at Port Harcourt Airport are porous and it is one of the things we are working on for the certification of the airport. It is an ongoing project and we are working with the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) on that and it is one of the things that must be done before the certification. There is still a risk of wildlife coming into the runway and the risk assessment has been done and sent to the airport operator.

Another issue they raised is the unclear markings at the airside; runway markings are almost 95 per cent complete as at September 4, 2021, yes; there is an issue of runway central light. It is one of the issues we are also discussing on the certification of the air

It’s 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, how has Nigeria fared?

The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US has really changed the security apparatus in the aviation industry, a lot of security measures have been put in place. Pre-9/11, you could virtually go to any airport, get approval to go in, but now, you are almost stripped naked for security checks. It may sound inconvenient, but I will rather be stripped naked, than go and be blown to pieces up there. It is one of the things that we just have to live with. Security is very critical.

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