The chairman of United Nigeria Airlines (UNA), Prof. Obiora Okonkwo has urged the federal government to create a special funding for the aviation sector operators.
Okonkwo made the call in Abuja yesterday while speaking at a retreat tagged ‘Positioning United Nigeria for value creation and retention.’
The event was organised by the management of UNA for its staff in commemoration of the carrier’s two-year anniversary.
Okonkwo said the call for provision of a window of special funding for the operators became necessary given its essential duty nature and its growing contribution to the country’s gross domestic product.
“We are just asking for a special funding window that should be of a single digit and that is easily accessible, not necessarily on paper, but it is not accessible.
“We still believe that this government has done a lot for the aviation industry, though, more needs to be done and we think that the bigger legacy that this government will leave for the aviation industry is to ensure that the operators survive.
“No operator should go under, rather let there be new operators in the business of aviation,” he said.
Okonkwo said the indigenous airline operators have been very patriotic and have contributed immensely to the growth of the nation’s GDP.
“We are very patriotic Nigerians, who have contributed so much to the GDP of the nation, giving employment; it is a sector that I advise this government and incoming government to take very seriously.
“Because, if properly harnessed, it will be a great source of foreign exchange for the country, especially, if the local operators should be empowered, this industry, we believe remains a critical and essential industry, that should be treated are such.
“This industry cannot survive further at the regular commercial rates. We know that there are privileges given to sectors like agriculture and others. Aviation should be considered also,” he said.
He said air transportation requires special attention stressing that if that was done, “I have no doubt that the operators will be stronger and further render better services to the people.”
He emphasised further that there was the need for the government to consider a special funding for the sector operators, saying that it was a win-win situation for both government and the operators and ultimately for the good of Nigerians.
“I also thought that the government should consider a window of “special fund” at a single unit loan for the operators because it is a win -win situation for the companies and the government.
“Because this is one sector that pays the government as they receive their own, because every ticket that is issued, all agencies of government have their own.
“It creates high level, high powered employment, high skilled workers that pay good income tax to the government, and so this is one of the sectors that should be taken seriously and the operators are happy to work out all the new arrangement with the government.
If this capital is made available, the individual airlines will access it as par their needs and then capitalise individually, because there is a capital you should have as a domestic operator and the required capital if you are going international or regional routes.
“So you can imagine a situation where you go to the bank today and access naira loan at the rate of 25 to 30 per cent and then you go back to the foreign exchange window and buy it at the rate of N750, you just basically operate for nothing,” he added.
Okonkwo also said the airline was committed to further improving on its performance going despite the challenges experienced in the past year.
In his remarks, the airline’s chief operating officer and executive director, Mr. Ostia Okonkwo, said the company’s strategy, going forward, was to continue on its growth part.
He said that despite challenges, the company survived, saying that it was grateful to God, the travelling public, and the regulators that have kept fate with the company.
He said the company in 2023 and beyond would continue to excel and improve its service to the travelling public and customers, focused on its equipment to ensure its fleet was up to date.
According to him, the company has a massive expansion programme in the fleet area in numbers and aircraft.
“We have started with already with A 320, which is already flying. More will join the fleet,
“We are expanding our destinations; we have the objective of having a footprint in every airport in Nigeria….
“We are going outside Nigeria. We are moving regionally, we are going through the regulatory process now, and we have gotten our airline carriers permit.
“We have gotten designations to a number of countries, which will be announced soon,” he said.