BY EMEKA EJERE
The Federal Government has threatened to sanction foreign airlines operating in the country over their refusal to accept naira payment for flight tickets.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, disclosed this at a briefing today after the Federal Executive Council meeting chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Federal Government had a few days ago bowed to pressure from foreign airlines after a number of them raised the alarm over FG’s inability to allow them access to their revenues in the country, which was said to be around $450 million.
However, domestic operators kicked against what they see as discriminatory practice, while aviation experts believed, it will not solve the problem.
Sirika said intelligence reports indicated that some of the airlines refuse to sell in naira but charge ticket fares in dollars instead, in violation of Nigerian laws.
The minister disclosed that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority has been directed to deal with any of such airlines that are caught flouting the laws.
Sirika cautioned them to refrain from using the social media to place their demands rather than resorting to the diplomatic channels.
According to him, foreign airlines have made over 1.1 billion dollars so far from Nigeria since 2016, an amount which could have remained in the country if they were local airlines.
He further revealed that the airlines remitted over 600 million dollars to their home countries in 2016, while over 265 million dollars has also been released this year.
Airlines Operators of Nigeria, (AON) spokesman, Prof. Obiora Okonkwo, had said that the foreign airlines are arm twisting the government to give them what their own do not give other foreign airlines. He said that all the airlines domestic and foreign go through the same process – sourcing forex, buy JetA1, maintenance checks etc. so their case is not different.
According to him, the foreign airlines charge or cost their tickets at E&I window exchange rate, some even use parallel market rate, but when they want to repatriate their funds, the ask for CBN official rate which is exploitation. The E&I window is N438 per while official CBN rate is N416.
“Our government should not succumb to this blackmail, Nigerians passengers pay the highest amount on tickets in West Africa, because these airlines already factor in the differential in exchange rate, yet they want government to give official rate.
“A six hour flight from any Ghana costs N600,000 return, which cost almost N2 million in Nigeria. How can you explain? This is the reason many Nigerians now go to neighbouring countries to book their flight, thereby denying the country revenue.