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NCAA threatens shutdown of Nigeria’s airspace over aviation fuel shortage

Factual Pursuit of Truth for Progress

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Nigeria’s airspace may be shut soon if the on-going aviation fuel crisis is not tackled. The Director-General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu, sounded this warning on Thursday while stressing that the decision is for the safety of air travelers.

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Captain Nuhu made the disclosure at a meeting summoned by the leadership of the House of Representatives led by the Deputy Speaker, Hon Idris Ahmed Wase, to find a lasting solution to the aviation fuel crisis.

This came just as the House directed the Nigeria Midstream and Downstream Regulatory Authority to do everything possible to dismantle the cartel growing in the industry that had jacked up the prices of aviation fuel to its current price of N670 per litre from its usual price of N190 and the non-availability of the product.

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However, the Executive Director, Distribution Systems, Storage and Retailing Infrastructure of the Nigeria Midstream and Downstream Regulatory Authority (NMDRA), Ogbogu Ukoha, insisted that there was enough jet A1 in the country to last for 34 days.

While speaking at a meeting, the NCAA boss who expressed surprise at the sudden increase in Jet A1 said the safety of passengers was key to his mandate, pointing out that with the way things were going currently, he may be forced to shut down some airline and by extension, the airspace to ensure safety.

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According to him, “I don’t want to appear before any committee either here in the House or in the Senate to explain what happened to airline ABCD. So, we must do something fast to address this situation so that things do not get out of hand.”

Nuhu pointed out that currently, flights were being delayed or cancelled as a result of the supposed scarcity of aviation fuel and the sudden increase in prices which he said had been happening on a daily basis.

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He said that as a result of the increase in the cost of operation of the airlines, they might be forced to shut down their operation, an action which he said will have an adverse effect on the economy of the country.

However, the NMDPRA Executive Director who said the role of the agency was to regulate the industry and issue licenses to importers of the product said from his records, there was enough aviation fuel to last the country for 34 days.

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Ukoha said further that aviation fuel was one of the petroleum products that had been fully deregulated and is therefore controlled by market forces, adding that the Authority has issued licenses to about 28 companies to import the product into the country.

According to him, “From our records, we have enough supplies to last us for 34 days plus. So, when we hear about scarcity, all we can say is that we have enough supplies.”

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But his explanation did not go down was enough supply to last for 34 days, saying then there must be a cartel working so hard to sabotage the efforts of the government.

According to him, “This is a political era and elections are coming. We do not want anybody to sabotage the efforts that the government has put into revamping the economy so far because aviation is very important to the economy.”

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Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyeama, who spoke on behalf of the Airline Operators, said they have held back from shutting down the industry because of the impact it will have on the nation and its economy.

According to him, “It is because of this statement that you made now about being in a politic era that we have not shut down. We do not want anybody to use us to blackmail the government who has done so much for the industry.

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“Our DG has said it succinctly that safety is of concern in this industry. He also spoke about the cost of operation and let me say that fuel takes about 30 per cent across the world, but in Nigeria, fuel takes about 70 per cent of our operation.

“What happened in the last two weeks is alarming. From a price of N190 per litre two weeks ago, the price is now N670 as of today and we don’t know what is going to be matter. The government has done so much for us in this industry with the President granting us waivers.

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“We held a meeting and decided to shut down our operations because of the cost of operation. We are owing so much money and we don’t want AMCON to come after us. But we decided not to because we know the impact it will have on the economy.

“We cannot survive like this for another three days. We had to reduce our operations to 30 per cent because the product is not even available. So, I am surprised that the Executive Director said they have supplies to last 34 days.

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“We are making so much sacrifice here. I am evacuating Nigerians from Poland and I had to pay three times the usual amount and I am not asking for a refund. So, something needs to be done and done fast.”

In his reaction, the Chairman of Skyjet Aviation, Kashim Bukar Shettima, gave an indication of the existence of a black market ring operating within the industry when he said that while none of the known fuel marketers agree to have the product in stock, there were companies which are not known that are selling the product.
Chairman of the House Committee on Aviation, Rep Nnolim Nnaji, also alleged that there now exists a cartel in the industry who are using pseudo companies to sell the product because of the realization that they cannot directly increase the price.

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House Leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, said what is happening in the industry is a clear sign that the Petroleum Industry Act was not working as it should, asking the operators of the law to make it work.

He said there is fire on the mountain and everything possible must be done to ensure that Nigerians get the desired benefits from the PIA.

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Deputy House Leader, Rep Peter Akpatason, said the NMDPRA must bring to book all those who are involved in the hoarding of the product and subjecting airline operators and Nigerians to severe hardship.

He said since they have told Nigerians that the product was available to last 34 days, they must direct the marketers to release the product immediately.

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In his intervention, Group Managing Director of the NNPC Limited, Mele Kyari, assured that they would do everything possible to address the issue of supply of jet A1, while also collaborating the statement that there was enough supply of the product in the country.

According to him, “I can confirm that there is enough supply. Yes, it might be in the wrong hands or in the wrong places. We are going to do everything we can to address the situation.

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“However, regarding the request by the Airline operators to bring down the price to N200, let me say that will not be possible. It is not possible because the landing cost of jet A1 now is N480 per litre. Except if we are going to subsidize it, the price cannot come down to N200”.

Marketers of the product were not present at the meeting, necessitating an adjournment to Monday to enable them to attend the meeting, while the NMDPRA is to provide details of all companies licensed to import the product into the country.

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The meeting, however, resolved that the NCAA should take steps to regulate those who sell the product within the nation’s airports before adulterated jet A1 find its way into the airports, thereby creating issues of safety for airlines.

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