Local airlines, yesterday, reacted to allegations of owing the industry N45.29 billion, describing as untrue, the suspected ploy to defraud regulators and service providers.
The airlines, under the aegis of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), admitted to some members, owing the industry, including defunct airlines. They, however, took exception to allegations of fraud peddled in some media reports.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had accused the operators of deliberately stifling regulators and service providers of funds, by withholding statutory five percent Ticket Sales Charge and Cargo Sales Charge (TSC/CSC) to the tune of over N19 billion and $7.8 million (N3.29 billion).
The airlines are also indebted to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) to the tune of N18 billion and N5 billion, in that order. The airlines owe FAAN landing and parking charges, while they are also hugely indebted to NAMA in terminal and navigational charges.
Vice President of the AON, Allen Onyema, in a reaction yesterday, said the representation of the issues, as “fraud” and alleged “conversion of the funds to personal use”, were wrong accusations.
Onyema expressed reservations and denied that members were defrauding or defrauding government agencies of the said amount. He said: “Airline operations, worldwide, is not a cash and carry business. Every airline in the world owes debts, which are settled as their operations go on. Nigeria is not an exception.”
“It is true that some of our members have very bad debts but not all our members owe such debts. The owing of debts in itself does not amount to fraud. We frown very strongly at the criminalization of all Nigerian airlines as a result of the said debts,” he said.
Onyema, who is the Chairman of Air Peace airline, noted that various parties were present at a stakeholders’ meeting and the DG NCAA did not at any time use such words to describe Nigerian airlines.
“Rather, the meeting ended on an amicable note with everyone agreeing to work together to address the debts. It is pertinent to point out that some of these debts are owed by some airlines that are no longer in existence.
“We, however, advise our members with such bad debts to engage the agencies and put forward repayment plans. Airlines in Nigeria are operating under a very harsh environment and need all the support from everyone,” he said.
The NCAA warned that if the debts owed to the agencies were not paid in the next few weeks, the aviation agencies might collapse. To that effect, it gave the operators a one-month ultimatum to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with NCAA, which would stipulate the repayment plans of their debts to the agency.