The Federal Government has advised indigenous airline operators in the country to pay up whatever debts they owe service providers instead of looking up to highly placed persons in government to help them to either waive the debts or re-negotiate them.

The Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika handed down the advice while addressing aviation correspondents in Lagos recently on the current state of the country’s aviation industry.

He noted that certain indigenous carriers in the country are under the burden of heavy debts resulting from services provided for them by agencies and as such cannot perform optimally, compete favourably with their foreign counterparts or worse still go moribund.

“Look, there is an airline that is owing one of the agencies N13 billion. There is another airline that is owing a total debt of N500 billion; that is the collective indebtedness of that airline. That airline has crashed or at least it is being taken over,” he disclosed.

In the past, he further disclosed, such airline operators took advantage of their influence in government to get the debts either waived or re-scheduled, pointing out that, such a thing would not happen under the present administration.

“Under this administration, it is not going to happen; to allow them to continue to accumulate debts and go to the Villa and the debts are either waived off or the debts are post- dated. No one in the Villa will entertain any airline operator to engage in such. There is no door that is open for that,” he added.

The Minister took a swipe at the Nigerian airline operators for not adopting international best approach in doing their business, pointing out that, this is why they are now complaining as the Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM) is being implemented and they feel it is the operating environment that is harsh and responsible for their plight.

For instance, he said, in line with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regulations, airlines are not expected to owe agencies that provide services, their employees and contractors, disclosing that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is currently undertaking a financial audit of all indigenous airlines operating in the country with a view to giving them (the airlines) a close marking to ensure that they are financially afloat as much as possible.

Senator Sirika noted that Nigerian carriers were at the forefront of the campaign to respect and implement the Yamoussoukro Decision and at that time they were at advantage, regretting that today, they are singing another song.

“These carriers are owing all over the place. I am not sure if these airlines are financially healthy, NCAA is conducting audit on all the airlines presently. I do not think the airlines will want the result to go to the public. If I will advise them, they should get their acts together to focus, to re-organise, to re-engineer and take advantage and be futuristic and looking at the bigger future and organise themselves and take advantage of the SAATM, rather than sit there and the train is moving and begin to whine,” he emphasised.

The Minister advised the Nigerian carrier operators not only to put their acts together, reorganise and re-energise but that they should also get their priority right and embark on a business model that would bring money for them.

“To run profitably is important in aviation unlike a situation whereby everybody wants to run scheduled passenger flights. There is a lot they can do in aviation,” he stressed.

The Minister also disclosed that the present administration is committed more than ever before to the establishment of a new national carrier before the expiration of its term in order to place Nigeria at advantage in the implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM). He noted that Nigeria was at the forefront in the implementation of the Yamoussoukro Declaration at a time its national carrier, the Nigeria Airways was in operation, but today it had become moribund, giving hope that before too long, a new one would be in place to take advantage of Nigeria’s potential to build its economy via air transportation.

“Where are we with the National Carrier? I think in the next couple of months, one month to two months maximum, by March, we should be able to have our outline business case for this transaction. And then, the full business case will follow. I will say that we are very close to having the national carrier established. Certainly, it would be within the first term of this administration,” he declared.

According to him, the government has set in motion set in motion the process to create a robust carrier that would take advantage of this SAATM for the benefit of Nigerian people.

“I believe we are on the right course. I believe that this private sector led, and driven airline, once established, would become the dominant carrier in Africa because the market is in Nigeria. Its centrality to Africa, by its geography, is God- given, it is equidistant to other parts of Africa. And with the market of 173million people, this is a large population and Nigerians travel. So, if you talk of advantage, Nigeria is at advantage position,” he added.

In addition to establishing a national carrier, Senator Sirika revealed that government had embarked on a review of the existing Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA) such that foreign carriers would not take advantage of our potentials in aviation to enrich themselves.

“The way to go is to continue to sign these BASAs up to a point where Nigeria would take full advantage of the BASAs themselves. I want to assure you; we cannot sign a BASA that would be skewed against Nigeria. It cannot happen, he stated.

His words: “Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) are good and very important for us especially for the sake of where we are now.  We need to understand that air transport connects places, connects markets, connects businesses and connects people, connects cultures, connects countries. And doing that brings tonnes of benefits. To be able to crisscross the world and go to other cultures, other people, other markets, other trading partners and come back, the benefits are unquantifiable.”