The approval of five per cent from the Passengers Service Charge (PSC) collected by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) for the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) is generating furore in the aviation industry.
The approval given by the Ministry of Transportation through the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, has become a matter of divergent debates and pontifications by some aviation analysts. While some experts back the minister, others, especially the major aviation unions, queried the rationale for the approval, saying it was not justified.
AIB is the body responsible for investigation of accidents and incidents in the aviation industry. For years, the AIB, which only receives subvention from the Federal Government, has been crying in a seemingly endless manner over inadequate funds to execute its projects.
There are over 35 accident reports that the body is yet to release even though the reports are critical and essential to implement certain safety measures to guard against recurrence.
Five years after the jet conveying the late Taraba State Governor, Danbaba Suntai, crashed in Yola, Adamawa State, there is no clue yet to the cause of the crash. The AIB says it needs to fly the plane to its manufacturer abroad to disassemble it towards ascertaining what went wrong with the engine. It said funding had prevented it from doing that.
It was on the strength of this that the new AIB Commissioner, Engr. Akin Olateru, made a request to the ministry for five per cent of FAAN's PSC.
PSC is the charge collected from each passenger on local and international travels. Passengers travelling on domestic routes pay N1000 each per trip while those on international trips pay $50 to FAAN.
With an average of 15 million passengers per annum travelling across 22 airports managed by FAAN with a conservative distribution of 70 per cent local and 30 per cent international passengers, it is estimated that AIB may get over N4bn this year going by the approval.
This is apart from its subvention and the three per cent it receives from five per cent Ticket Sale Charge (TSC) and Cargo Sale Charge (CSC).
In accordance with the Civil Aviation Act 2006, the five per cent TSC/CSC collected from airlines is shared among five agencies: NCAA gets 58 per cent, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) gets 23 per cent, Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) gets seven per cent and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) gets nine per cent of the total sum.
However, Olatere, on June 5, 2017, made a request for 10 per cent of the PSC collected by FAAN, citing inadequate funds in the bureau to carry out most of its projects.
The ministry, through Sirika, eventually approved five per cent of PSC for the bureau amidst criticisms from some quarters.
The commissioner justified the approval, saying several projects of the bureau, including over 35 pending accident reports, were stalled due to paucity of funds.Speaking at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) headquarters of the agency, Olateru said the criticisms trailing the approval in some quarters were wicked.
Olateru noted that AIB only got a meagre three per cent of the revenue from the five per cent Ticket Sales Charge and the Cargo Sales Charge collected on behalf of the parastatals by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) while other agencies got more.
He said the five per cent from FAAN would not be too much since only FAAN earned the PSC 100 per cent, while at the same time collected charges for adverts, parking and landing of aircraft, land and tolls on vehicles coming in and exiting airports across the country.
General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Comrade Oayinka Abioye, rejected the claim of the AIB commissioner, saying the approval was not justifiable.
He said: "As far as we are concerned, it is not justifiable because for all this while, even the three per cent that AIB has been collecting from TSC is not accounted."
The union is also querying the power of the aviation minister to unilaterally approve the money, saying it was not in his purview, but the responsibility of the National Assembly to give such approval.
He added: "First and foremost, we the unions do not think that it is the right thing to have been done by the minister because allocations to parastatals are not within the purview of the minister. It should be part of the responsibilities of the National Assembly.
"The CEO has been complaining that there has been no training of their accident inspectors in the last five years or thereabout, as from 2013. Who was in charge of AIB then? What did they do with all the money that has been approved for training? That's the issue.
"Again, why can't they think outside the box instead of saying because FAAN is collecting some money 100 per cent and you want to have a share in it? That's not the way to go about looking for money. Every parastatal should be encouraged to look inwards to think outside the box and find the way of raising its bar on how to generate funds. They should be creative and innovative enough to get money.
"The three per cent is even too much for AIB, that's the truth of the matter. AIB is not supposed to have more than 50 staff, professionals. What's their staff strength? How did those people get employed?" he queried.
But aviation expert, Mr. Chris Aligbe, defended the minister's action, saying AIB was the only aviation agency that did not generate any revenue. According to him, approving the five per cent for it was "in order".
"You see, AIB does not make money. It does not generate any revenue. It is not a revenue generating agency. It doesn't charge anything but it needs revenue to survive. I think that is what the minister has done. As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing wrong about it," he added.
But the question agitating the minds of all and sundry is whether or not the minister or the ministry has the power to grant the approval. Be that as it may, it is indeed the beginning of naira rain for the hitherto cash-strapped agency.