Foreign airlines should be given priority to repatriate their money – Bankole Bernard

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In this interview, the group managing director of Finchglow Holdings, Mr. Bankole Bernard, makes a case for the foreign airlines regarding their funds withheld by the Central Bank of Nigeria, effects of the action on the travel industry, exit of Dana Air and Aero Contractors, the proposed Nigeria Air and its impact on the market, among some other issues in the aviation industry. The interview was conducted at the 26th annual conference of the League of Airport and Aviation Correspondents held in Lagos recently.

Ime Akpan

Repatriation of withheld airlines’ funds

For me, on the issue of non-repatriation of funds by the foreign airlines, I think it is an issue that is over flogged. I don’t think at this particular point in time we should still be talking about things like this. We need to go back to the drawing board and address this thing the way we addressed it in the past.

Remember two years ago, we had this kind of issue that even the funds got to an amount far higher than what it is now, about $750 million and here we are talking about $450 million that has been stuck as a result of CBN not providing funds. I think we need to give priority and I think with the sort of service that these foreign airlines have brought to us I think CBN should have given them priority to repatriate their money. I honestly don’t understand what is happening at CBN but it really requires a lot of intervention; the government needs to address the issue.

Affects on the travel agencies

It’s going to affect the cost of fare, the number of people that is going to travel, cost of goods. Inflation will go up because if you look at Nigeria of today, majority of the goods you find on ground are imported products and they are forex related and if they are forex related, it means the cost of those goods will go up and its going to affect the masses. So, I don’t understand why we can’t address this to be able to bring down inflation. If forex is in scarcity, the cost would go up. As of yesterday (July 27), the black market was already doing N710. It is ridiculous; the CBN needs to look into this because it would affect every industry including the one we have found ourselves. In this industry today the spare parts, the training, the service, everything is dollar denominated. So, if it is dollar eliminated, the impact is going to be huge. So, the government just needs to intervene.

Exit of two domestic airlines

It is quite unfortunate, but you know in our industry it is safety first.  I want to believe that the regulator had to place safety over convenience, which I absolutely agree with them. If the airlines need to undergo audits to ensure that the lives of citizens are protected I think it is worth it. Yes, it is going to create a sort of impact on either the number of inventory of tickets in the market place, aircraft to be used but even at that, our industry is all about safety and safety must be brought to bear when it comes to things like this. So, I totally support it and I’m sure that by the time they are done with their audit which will happen within the shortest possible time, they can come back on board.

On Nigeria Air and impact on travel

I say congratulations to us.  Why I’m saying congratulations to us is, every time there is an additional aircraft it brings succor to the industry and the traveling public. If Nigeria Air is able to come into the market, it increases the fleet in the market; it brings convenience to the people that are travelling and not only that, we now start to showcase to the rest of the world that yes we could float a national carrier.

The impression it’s going to create is a significant one and it’s going to, at the same time, change the narrative.

What narrative? The negative impression they have about Nigeria that we can’t do anything right but they would see this come to fruition.

Business model of Nigeria Air

In every business the carrier of the vision is the one that understands how it should run. I believe that as long as you bring the right expertise onboard, whatever model they decide to adopt should be something that should be of significance to the market. Business model or no business model, as long as it has value to the bottom line of the general public, I think it is fantastic.

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