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Experts seek review, sustainability measures as airports reopen Friday

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Lagos airport. Photo: CNN

Aviation stakeholders have urged the Federal Government to constitute a committee to review the aviation sector and its sustainability in the coronavirus era.

The experts, under the aegis of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), said the call aligns with the need to chart a path to a new financial and safety demands in the sector, especially as the international airports may reopen Friday.

The Federal Government’s March 21 closure and another two weeks extension placed on Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos (DNMM), Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja (DNAA), Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano ( DNKN), Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, Port Harcourt (DNPO) and Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu (DNEN), will elapse Thursday, May 7, 2020.

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President of the ASRTI, Gbenga Olowo, said the sector required more initiatives than just reopening the airports.

Olowo said a committee should be constituted by Aviation Minister to review the practicality of the sector and its survival.

He said efforts must be made to open the airspace and borders all together at once to stimulate commerce and traffic flow, failure of which connecting economies and early recovery by the airlines will be very difficult if not impossible.

In the area of financial support, he agrees with the earlier suggestions by American/Nigeria Chamber of Commerce, adding that the same measures should be extended to reboot the air travel sector.

The chamber had earlier advocated that Nigerian businesses that are five years old and above should be allowed to draw up to a maximum of 20 per cent of their three-year average annual turnovers as a loan, at a five per cent interest rate with a one-year moratorium within seven days after the lockdown is lifted, using their businesses as collateral.

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Olowo noted that when China became serious about transformation, Chinese businesses got cheap loans of five per cent within 72 hours of submitting their loan applications.

In addition, he called for a 50 per cent salary-subvention for three months from the government for all Nigerians working in corporate organisations.

“The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should mandate commercial banks to extend the moratorium on the existing business loans that have fallen due by adding one more year without penalties.

“(The bank should) raise $50 billion from what I call Africa Diaspora Investment Fund (ADIF). Interest on savings on fixed deposit has evaporated in some developed economies. Indeed, negative interest in some countries like Switzerland.

“Therefore, an interest rate of three per cent for the Diaspora investors will be sweet music to their ears. $50 billion can be raised from 10 million Africans in the Diaspora investing an average of $5000.

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“This is better than the China or International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) money with their impossible conditionality. AfDB can be called upon to play the midwifery role.”

Aviation Security Consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said flight operations should resume after the ease of restriction, only if the airlines, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) have sufficiently prepared themselves, and in compliance with the flight safety international guidance materials too.

He said the way out for the government to revamp the industry was to give a reduction of concessions’ charges on the services provided by its service providers.

He added that airports should be graded into four according to their level of importance to passengers and air traffic, while changes on landing and parking should be reduced accordingly.

“Multiple destinations given to the foreign airlines, which encroach into the domestic routes and the domestic airlines’ market, should be reduced for the benefits of the domestic airlines.

“It will take a long while to get passenger traffic to the level it was before the pandemic, therefore, the airlines too should begin to look into local cargo operations while government should include cabotage laws into the proposed review of the civil aviation act to enable the domestic airlines to go into international cargo operations.”

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