Ground handlers to shut operations over stalled new rates
•Industry faults Reps’ meddling in aviation affairs
Ground handling companies may commence an indefinite industrial action on Friday, November 5, in protest against stalled implementation of the new handling rates.
The operators, who kicked against interference by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Aviation, said members would withdraw services from all airports until the full implementation of the approved rates.
After a 35-year wait, the Federal Government, in September, approved new safety threshold ground handling charges, effective October 1, 2021 for international carriers, and January 1, 2022, for domestic operators.
According to the review made known by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), foreign airlines shall pay ground handlers between $1,500 and $5,000 for passenger and cargo airlines. Their domestic counterparts shall pay between N25,000 and N70,000 depending on the aircraft type.
The review was expected to put an end to perennial underpricing and destructive competition in the ground handling sub-sector of aviation, which has cost revenue shortfall of $28.35 million or N11.6 billion (N410/$) yearly.
Following a protest by foreign and local airlines, the Reps’ Committee on Aviation has lately directed NCAA to stop the implementation forthwith.
An official of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Plc, yesterday, told The Guardian that the industrial action was the last resort of the operators, following the “lawmakers’ refusal to listen to entreaties and operators’ viewpoint in this matter.”
The industrial action will, however, have dire implications for air transport. Besides grounding both local and foreign airlines, it is also coming at a time of the United States’ recertification of Nigeria’s international airports.
Stakeholders warned that Nigeria might lose the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Category One Status if the political class continued to interfere unnecessarily.
A former Director-General of the NCAA said “the mess” going on in local aviation was “detestable” and not in the interest of its development.
He said: “Category One is the highest rating and if you downgrade it, you can be relegated. This has happened to many countries because of cases like these in the past. You heard what Senator Na’Allah said on one of the same issues, recently? He has spoken as a professional. I expect other members of his committee to follow suit (and withdraw interference with aviation issues).”
President, Sabre Network, West Africa, Dr. Gabriel Olowo, said political interference, especially where it hinges on safety, should be condemned in very strong terms.
Olowo said the ground handlers were in order to demand a new rate and insist on its implementation.
“They are absolutely right given global economic indices on all factors of production that have increased astronomically, including severe currency fluctuations. Refusal by the government not to allow the prices to be driven by market forces suggests that the operators may be enjoying all sorts of subsidies, waivers, and so on; just a speculation.”
Director of Research at Zenith Travel, Olumide Ohunayo, urged the National Assembly to back-off from interfering with the decisions taken by the regulator of the industry.
“This will not augur well for us. We cherish our achievements on the safety level, based on the prowess of our regulator and the ability to sustain it over the years and that has made them retain all certifications – FAA and International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
“As for me, the ground handlers need to do what they need to do. In the last 10 years, the ground handlers have been cutting themselves by the skin just to attract clients and in doing so, they were almost going below production, which was affecting their balance sheet.
“We have to be factual. The ticket fares have increased from 1990 to date; reflecting the reality of today. The ticket you are paying N50,000, N60,000 for, was below N10,000 about 20 years ago. So, should the ground handlers remain stunted or stand by agreement made over 30 years ago, while their equipment is not procured in Nigeria? In the same market, they don’t have a special rate, they buy dollars from the black market to pay for these things. How will they survive?”