CBN still holding to Air Peace’s $14m six months after — Onyema alleges

The Chairman of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema has said that the airline’s $14 million is still being held by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), six months after lodgment.

Onyema said that the sum, which was paid into the CBN in naira, was meant for the maintenance of some of their aircraft, which were ferried abroad for various degrees of maintenance.

Onyema stated this yesterday in Lagos in an interview with aviation journalists.

Onyema, who expressed worries at the difficulties of indigenous airlines accessing foreign exchange from the country, said that the airline had borrowed the sum at the rate of 26 percent from the banks.

In all, he said the CBN is expected to pay the airline about $24 million.

He said, “We ferried 15 of our aircraft for maintenance overseas. We needed dollars to pay for the maintenance; so, we paid naira to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which is equivalent to $14 million needed to pay and bring the aircraft back to Nigeria after the checks. We have not received this money.

“This is money we borrowed at 26 percent interest rate, but six months have passed and we are yet to get this money from CBN. The total debt we are expected to be paid to us from the CBN is $24 million. This is why we said that what we need is a conducive environment and Nigerian airlines will blossom.

“If these monies are made available to us and other airlines, Nigerian carriers will do very well. Nigerian airlines have capacity, what we need is support from our government.”

Onyema also mentioned the lack of transit facilities for passengers and paucity of foreign exchange as some of the factors limiting growth of indigenous airlines.

Onyema decried that the absence of transit facilities at the international airports like the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja was affecting the performance of the airlines negatively, especially those in the regional and international routes.

For instance, Onyema said that Air Peace operates to destinations in the West and Central Africa and ought to bring passengers from Douala, Banjul, Accra, Lome, Monrovia, Dakar, Freetown and others to its hub in Lagos to its other international destinations like India, China, South Africa, Jeddah and other long-haul destinations.

But regretted that the absence of transit facilities, policies of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), were holding the indigenous airlines back. 

“But unfortunately, we don’t have a transit facility where these passengers will stay until they board their next flight and Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) are yet to segment this class of passengers who in other countries are made to wait in the transit facility on the airside until they are due to fly again.

“Currently, immigration treats them like other passengers whose final destination is Nigeria and are expected to obtain a visa and follow other procedures like other passengers who are arriving in Nigeria. What is usually obtained is that as long as the passengers are not leaving the airport, they do not need a visa because they are in transit.

“If Air Peace can bring these passengers from neighbouring countries and take them to farther destinations, the airline will be doing well on the long-haul routes. It is these kinds of policies that inhibit the success of Nigerian airlines. 

“For example, the Kotoka International Airport, Accra, has such a transit facility and we take our passengers from there to Monrovia.

“For Nigerian airlines to compete and benefit from the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), we must upgrade our airports to include transit facilities and also immigration should adopt a new policy that recognises transit passengers,” he said.

Onyema further said that what the sector needed at this time was airport infrastructure and not a national carrier, maintaining that if supported by the government, Nigerian airlines could provide the needed capacity.

Onyema further explained that the airline had secured a Foreign Carrier Operator Permit (FCOP), which allows airlines from other regions to fly to Europe and Third Country Operator Permit (TCO-UK) that enables airlines to operate to the UK.

He emphasised that to obtain these permits the airline went through stringent audits to ensure that it met the high safety status, capacity and standard conditions.

With this, he said the airline has qualified to fly to the United Kingdom.

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