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Aviation sector warns of shutdown over maintenance, customs hiccups

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Airline operators, yesterday, warned that the local aviation sector risks a shutdown over depleted fleet capacity, made worse by maintenance constraints and bureaucratic bottlenecks at the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).

The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) said while COVID-19 lockdown continues to delay airplanes at maintenance facilities abroad, alleged overbearing actions of customs officers were prolonging critical spare parts, leading to grounding of more aircraft.

In a related development, indigenous carrier, Air Peace, yesterday, received another brand new Embraer plane, about two months after the first of 13 came into the country.

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At 2:25 p.m., the Embraer 195-E2 aircraft touched down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja to a warm welcome by the aviation community.

At the reception, AON’s Vice Chairman, Allen Onyema, said the offering came in at one of the most critical moments in the history of Nigerian aviation when avoidable constraints could force struggling operators to shutdown services.

Onyema, who is also the Air Peace Chairman, said for the intervention of the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, the sector could have shut down two weeks ago.
He said his organisation and other players were back at the brink, with only very few of the airplanes currently in operation.

The chairman noted that though Air Peace had the largest fleet of 27 planes in the country, only about five were in operations, while 17 are stuck in maintenance facilities overseas due to COVID-19 and lockdown challenges.

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), recently, shut down the activities of Azman Air over alleged safety concerns, partly related to maintenance constraints experienced by the carrier.

Onyema said the most worrisome was the “penchant by the Customs to keep demanding duties and delaying aviation accessories for months, despite duty waivers granted by the Federal Government.”

He said: “The Customs knows very well that waivers have been signed into law. Yet, I have an aircraft on ground for over one month. An aircraft for which I pay over $1 million for its insurance and use in supporting over 3000 workers. What is happening is that our spare parts and engines will come into this country and Customs will keep them for long, giving us all manner of reasons and bills to pay, even through the President of the country, in his wisdom, has removed duties on aviation components.

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“For Air Peace in particular, an engine which should be cleared in one day has taken over one month. In the neighbouring Republic of Benin, it takes 48 hours to clear goods. The engine involved was removed from here and taken back to the manufacturers to rectify something. The engine coming back is staying one month with Customs. This is not a new import. The Customs must be made to obey the laws of this country. They are killing aviation by not doing that. This government wants to help aviation and all the government agencies should fall in line.”

In his remark, Rector, International Aviation College, Ilorin, Benedict Adeyileka, said efforts of the local operators were for a better economy, noting that they deserved the necessary support.

He insisted that the COVID-19 constraints were bearable with support mechanisms, especially elimination of bottlenecks in the supply chain of local aviation.

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