For the Federal Government to effectively revive the aviation sector, it should steer clear of running a national carrier and rather be concerned with providing an enabling environment.
This was the position of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) as its officials visited The Guardian in Lagos.
The travel agencies also canvassed full private ownership of airline operations in the country, urging the government to adopt the kind of relationship between Ethiopia Airline and Togo's ASKY Airline in Lome.
Blaming the government and regulatory authorities for the problems of the aviation sector, NANTA condemned the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for imposing multiple charges on passengers. While FAAN allegedly charges $50 per passenger, NCAA collects about $20 per passenger, both charges which have further raised the ticket fares for passengers on the international routes.
FAAN and NCAA have, however, defended the charges, describing them as Passenger Service Charge (PSC) and security fees respectively.
President of NANTA, Bernard Bankole, who led other leaders of the group bemoaned government policies, which he described as unfavourable for the aviation industry.
Bankole said: "If government can give foreign exchange concession to other industries, why can't it be given to the aviation industry? I was recently made to understand that government has granted waiver for the purchase of aircraft spare parts. We need more concession from the Federal Government. If we continue on this path and allow this aviation industry to die, it is not going to be for the benefit of the country. It is every Nigerian that will feel the impact."
The travel agencies accused FAAN of hoarding data that would have revealed the real state of affairs at the nation's airports.
Bankole advocated credible data that would lead to a realistic assessment of the current challenges in the aviation sector with a view to finding lasting solutions. He said government must put the development of the industry at the forefront of its economic diversification agenda.
Lamenting the lack of data in the country, Bankole said: "FAAN and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) are not working together for the development of the industry. For example, government will sign a bilateral agreement, the agreement will get to the Ministry of Transport and the interpretation of the document will be different from that of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
"Government agencies are not even working together. Go to FAAN and tell them to give you data of passengers, they will not release them because they don't want anyone else to know. This is because if other people should know about them, they will say if 10 people travelled through this airport, where is the money for the 10 passengers?"
To NANTA, the policies in the aviation industry are obsolete, thus government must review them for the development of the industry.
"NCAA told us that they were trying to come up with a new NCAA Act, which was last reviewed in 2006, and we are now in 2016, the act has not even been implemented," the group said.
According to Bankole, there are loopholes in the act, which are creating challenges for the operators of the downstream aviation industry. He said that the development of the country's aviation industry would assist in the diversification of the economy from crude oil resources. He said the development of the sector would also encourage foreign investment in the country.
He observed that Ghana is already capitalising on what he described as "the nuisance value that Nigeria has put forward" to become the aviation hub of West Africa.
He said the president of Ghana recently announced a reduction of the cost of aviation fuel by 20 per cent and would ensure availability of the product in the country. Bankole said the Ghana national carrier may start operation by October.
"Here we are, a country with three refineries cannot make available aviation fuel, and all we hear everyday are political statements like the country's refineries would soon commence production of Dual Purpose Kerosene (DPK). Who is fooling who?
"Recently, there was no electricity at the international airport and we continue to hear different excuses. Shouldn't an airport of that magnitude, and with the kind of money they are collecting daily, be able to provide uninterrupted electricity supply for operations?
"For every passenger that is passing through there, $50 is being collected by FAAN and $10 is being collected for security. Are we saying that they couldn't have provided the airport with the power generator that would serve it? All these things need to stop. I am beginning to think that some of these monies do not get to the right authorities," he said.
Bankole hinged the success of the country's tourism sector on the development of the aviation industry. "We have seen foreign airlines leave to explore other markets and the country is not bothered about it. The fact that the rest have not gone is because they are hoping the situation will get better. United Airlines left Nigeria and nothing happened, Iberia Airline left. Some other airlines that are trading in Nigeria have also left and we feel it is okay. Aero Contractor has just stopped scheduled operations and we think it is fine with the country. They suspended operations because they didn't have money to maintain their aircraft."
An aviation consultant, who has also served on various presidential and ministerial committees, confirmed the mandatory charges, adding that the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) accruing to the regulatory authorities is more than what has been disclosed.
According to the consultant, there are sufficient forex earnings in the IGRs of the public and private operators in the sector to sustain their operations yearly without any recourse to forex concessions from the government.
He said: "FAAN cannot deny that it generates nothing less than $150m from the $50 per passenger on about three million outbound international passengers.
"FAAN generates about $100 million on landing and parking from about 15,000 international inbound flights. NAMA on the other hand, generates not less than $60 million on air navigational and air traffic services provided to inbound, outbound and overflying flights.
"There is also evidence that airlines pay $20 per passenger for security to the NCAA. There are earnings abroad on passenger tickets and cargo sales of about $150 million by the Nigerian airlines operators too on international routes which they don't get to return home."
On the domestic front, he added that the sum of N1000 is charged on over 100,000 passengers on daily basis.
"This was the reason why l once called for the audit of the financial earnings of all the operators following the revelations of recurring debts of domestic airlines to the ground and air safety services providers."
However, the Spokesman of FAAN, Yakubu Dati, told The Guardian that the fee in question is the PSC, which is a standard practice at airports across the world.
PSC, otherwise called, airport improvement fee is an additional charge for departing and connecting passengers at an airport. It is levied by government or an airport management and the proceeds are usually intended for funding of major airport improvements or expansion or airport service.
Some airports do not levy these fees on connecting passengers who do not leave the airport or whose connecting flight is within a specific timeframe after they arrive.
Dati said: "It is for passengers departing our terminal. We don't collect on inbound passengers. Passengers leaving London will be charged over there and they must have paid the same to the London airport. We collect ours from departing passengers. The sum is for the maintenance of the airport runway, fire, security and so on."
The Spokesman of the NCAA, Sam Adurogboye, also explained that the "security charges" actually go to the Federal Government as part of the five per cent of the levy on each international passenger.
The sum of $20 per passenger, according to him, is on account of growing global security threats and to provide necessary security infrastructure at the airports.
It was learnt that there is a dedicated account for airport security currently being managed by the Federal Government.