There seems no end to the confusion trailing the alleged sum of N40.081 billion owed the various government agencies by airline operators in Nigeria.
The debate, which has been in the front burner in the last six months, reared its head again early this week following threats by the agencies to clamp down on defaulting operators for failing to settle the contested liabilities.
This took a new twist after a recent call by the players that government should review downwards, various charges its agencies have been imposing on them, for special loan with which to cushion the effect of the current economic meltdown.
The agencies, namely: the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), have computed outstanding bills owed them by the operators and come out with a total of N40.081 billion as yet-to-be settled amount since 2000.
But investigations showed that between 1999 to 2010, five local airline were deregistered, while four others had their services reduced, leaving only about 15 operating fully, whereas most of those that had gone under are still listed as owing.
Separate lists of the charges vary from agency one to another.
For instance, the 45 per cent charge of every ticket sold by the operators, which goes to NCAA, is said to constitute 55 percent of the said debts.
Yet its proceeds are shared with other parastatals, including the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria and the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET).
Meanwhile, NAMA and FAAN books indicate combined balance of 45 per cent, which are meant to cover charges for flights monitoring, radar services and use of facilities at the airports, among other fees.
But the agencies are complaining that the new directive that each of them must remit 25 per cent of their earnings to the federation account, is seeing them face some difficulties, which can only be reduced if the airlines are prompt in paying their bills and could clear the old ones.
However, the airlines have insisted that some of the agencies were merely pilling up bills on them without putting them on notice, adding that most the agencies were with outdated billing system.
Speaking on the issue, Captain Desmond Soloja, an official of NAAPE said: “sometimes, charges are slammed on the airlines that did not make any flight to some routes, all in the name of revving revenue. Such disputed bills are compiled and pushed out to the public as debts by the airline.”
But Secretary of Aviation Round Table (ART), Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd) said there is no justification for any airline to owe, adding that the Ministry of Aviation should wade into the issue before it becomes a national embarrassment if the agencies ground the airlines.
By Emma Eke….
RipplesNigeria …without borders, without fears
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