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Stakeholders flay N4 billion bailout as another airline sacks workers

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Stakeholders in the aviation sector have described the Federal Government’s N4 billion bailout for struggling airlines as a show of gross insensitivity to their plight and the importance of the industry to the economy.

Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), a think-tank for the industry, flayed the bailout at the weekend as another local carrier, Azman Air, downsized its operations, sacking pilots and crew over the downtime in the sector.

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The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had recently told the Senate Committee on Aviation that the airlines would get N4 billion, contrary to the N25 billion bailout earlier planned.

The Guardian learnt that the approval of the meagre sum was not unconnected with the high indebtedness of the local airlines currently put at N22 billion.

Both the Senate committee and operators have faulted the government’s support for the airlines at this trying time of COVID-19 disruptions and financial distress across the airlines.

To be able to cope with the harsh realities that offer less than 40 per cent passenger traffic, the airlines have either slashed salaries or downsized operations and workforce. Air Peace and Bristow Helicopters were lately in a brawl with their pilots and engineers over welfare, which resulted in the loss of jobs.

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Azman Air, at the weekend, sacked six pilots as well as the cabin service manager/trainer, account officer and two ticket officers in the Abuja station.

Though the airline blamed economic challenges for the development, The Guardian learnt that Azman also requested that the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) blacklist the affected workers. The sacked workers, however, said they were fired over their protest against low wages, late payment of dues and alleged high-handedness of the management.

President of the ASRTI, Dr. Gbenga Olowo, said the ugly development should be expected in the sector where government’s support is never timely or commensurate with the pressing needs of the airlines.

Olowo said though domestic airlines alone owe about N22 billion to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), in business, they have lost N360 billion.

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“This is all a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reasonable countries intervened in their aviation industries in the second or third month. This is the eighth month and Nigeria is just responding. I think the government should just leave us to die, and then we will know that Nigeria has no aviation industry. The N4billion palliative for the aviation sector is very insensitive. I condemn it totally,” Olowo said.

Aviation Security expert, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), however, questioned the losses said to have been incurred by the local airlines, noting that no amount of bailout would save them without an extra measure to address accountability and mismanagement issues.

“It is not possible that domestic airlines have lost N360 billion in eight months. They could not have made that much with the five million average passenger traffic in a year. To get that amount in a year from five million passengers, each would have to pay an average fare of N72,000,” he said.

“It was obvious from the senate public hearing that the domestic airlines don’t pay customs duties on imported spares. It was also known that most of them are indebted to the NCAA to the tune of N19billion and $6millions.

“For how long are we going to dole out the commonwealth to the private airlines that show no responsible obligations to the state? If other countries give financial bailout to their airlines, it is because they show their states responsible obligations in taxes.” \

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