Airline operators in Nigeria have said operations may soon face collapse due to Nigeria Customs’ refusal to implement the Federal Government’s waivers on aircraft and spares in Nigeria. In June 2016, the Federal Government reaffirmed its zero duty policy and value added tax (VAT) waiver on the importation of commercial airplanes and their spare parts into the country. The policy which had been in place since 2013 was one of the fiscal policies aimed at ameliorating the burden of indigenous airlines with airline operators expressing delight with the reaffirmation. However, the Nigerian Customs Service has continued to withhold aircraft of operators, who are currently struggling with high foreign exchange rates and the impact of COVID-19.
Speaking during a ceremony to mark the arrival of Air Peace’s second Embraer 195-E2 aircraft at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, Allen Onyema, chairman of Air Peace and vice chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria, (AON) called on the government to intervene on the issue. “We must always do things that will reduce the name-calling or bad-mouthing of a particular regime.
The Customs knows very well that waivers have been signed into law yet I have an aircraft on ground for over one month, an aircraft I pay over one million dollars of insurance annually whether it flies or not. “Ourspare parts and engines will come into this country and the Customs will keep them and be giving us all manner of reasons and bills to pay, even when the president of the country in his wisdom has signed into law these waivers,”Onyema lamented.
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The AON vice chairman insisted that the Customs was not above the law and should be made to obey the laws of the country as the continued refusal to grant airlines these waivers will lead to them closing shops. He disclosed that if not for the timely intervention of Hadi Sirika, last week, several local airlines would have shut down because spare parts and aircraft were in the custody of the Customs who refused to release them to the airlines. “Air Peace engine which should be cleared in one day has taken over one month to clear.
In the neighbouring Republic of Benin, it takes 48 hours to clear aircraft and spares. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director-general of the WTO talked about the need for the Nigerian Customs to facilitate businesses and not kill businesses. “The Customs must be made to obey the laws of this country. They are killing aviation. This government wants to help aviation. The minister keeps on intervening,”Onyema said. He explained that its engine which has been with the Customs for over one month was yanked off by the airline and sent to the manufacturers to rectify an issue, adding that it is not a new import, yet the Customs has since seized the engine, making it difficult for the airline to carry out its scheduled operations. He said Air Peace has about 20 of its aircraft on maintenance worldwide which has been delayed because most of the countries where the planes were taken are in various levels of lockdown and as a result, the pace of work on the planes has slowed down.
Speaking on the arrival of Air Peace’s second Embraer 195-E2 aircraft, Onyema said “What we are witnessing today is the power of a vision. When we started in 2014, we knew that by 2017, we would start acquiring the triple seven jets. When the time came, we became the first airline in Nigeria to acquire the Boeing 737, and now, we have three of such jets. “When it was time to service airports with low traffic like Minna, Akure, Makurdi, Jalingo and other places, we acquired eight 50-seater Embraer 145 jets.
While we were doing it, we didn’t lose sight of the need to start planning for brand new jets. On September 13, 2018, we became the first airline in sub-Saharan Africa, to pay for 10 Boeing 737 Max 8, and our order is still intact, we won’t cancel it. “While the Max was having some issues, we decided to go for Embraer 195-E2 after meticulously studying it. We became the first in Africa to pay for 13 brand new planes and we would be acquiring 17 more to make it 30. These planes shall be deployed to domestic and regional routes. These jets are the best. If all the powers shut down while 30 feet above sea level, a RAM deploys automatically and the plane lands effortlessly. The aircraft speaks to the pilot and the pilot peaks to it. By the time we get everything, we would be providing 8000 jobs to Nigerians.”