Airline Operators Want FG to Check Capital Flight
By Ndubuisi Francis

With the planned liquidation of the ailing national carrier, Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL), seemingly irreversible, the Federal Government has been advised to create a befitting replacement aimed at checking the huge capital flight from the country occasioned by the absence of a viable national airline.

The advice is coming as the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Ambassador Frank Nchita Ogbuewu, and airline operators in the country seek to evolve appropriate strategies aimed at exploring a two-way synergy to stimulate the growth of tourism and the aviation industry.

More than $700 million is said to be repatriated from the country annually by foreign airlines which have capitalised on the huge market in the country to boost their profit margins.

NAL Managing Director, Mr. Andrew Okunnuga, who spoke on behalf of the Board of Airlines Representatives (BAR) in Lagos weekend at a meeting between airline operators and Ogbuewu lamented that aviation, being one of the fastest ways of stimulating economic development, was not being maximally exploited in the country.

He said while foreign airlines had been allowed multiple destinations under the Biltateral Air Services Agreement (BASA), such carriers had continued to record huge profits which were being repatriated.

The British carriers, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, he noted have been allowed 24 flights into the country weekly, 14 of which are under the BASA arrangement and another 10 on commercial basis.

The situation, he said, was not only unhealthy for the nation's aviation industry but also for national economic growth, calling for a redress.

Giving an unsavoury picture of the gradual descent of the once vibrant national airline, Okunnuga noted that successive governments had not only appointed their military cronies to run the airline aground but also took active part in depleting the fleet of aircraft.

He cited instances where four aircraft were flown out of the country in one day and sold while others were donated to some neigbouring countries.

Okunnuga stated that it would be in the interest of the nation to set up a viable national carrier if Nigeria Airways must be liquidated, adding that no vacuum should be allowed in case of liquidation.

Describing the existence of a single national carrier as no longer fashionable, he advised that other flag carriers should be allowed to operate side by side.

He stated that the domestic airlines possess the wherewithal to meet the requirements of international operations if allowed to compete favourably with their foreign counterparts.

In his address at the event, Ogbuewu urged the airline operators to act as catalysts for the nation's culture and toursim development through improved services and cooperation with his ministry. Announcing the creation of August, December and January of every year as tourism months, he solicited the support of airline in the area of fare reduction and efficient services in those months. stressing that aircraft provide the first port of call to develop their impression of a country.

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