Prof. Obiora Okonkwo, Chairman United Nigeria Airlines (UNA), has urged the Federal Government to leave a legacy by providing a window of special funding for aviation sector operators.
Okonkwo made the call in Abuja on Thursday, while speaking at a retreat organised by management of United Nigeria Airlines to mark its two years of operation in the aviation industry.
The retreat, with the theme: “Positioning United Nigeria for Value Creation and Retention”, was organised for management staff of the company.
Okonkwo said the call for provision of special funding for operators in aviation became necessary, given its essential duty nature and its growing contribution to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“We are just asking for a special funding window that should be of a single digit and that is easily 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.
“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.
“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 as 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.
“If this is done, I have no doubt that the operators will be stronger and further render better services to the people.”
He emphasised that there was need for 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 Funds” at a single unit loan for the operators, because it’s a win -win situation for the companies and the government.
“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 provided, the individual airlines will access it as per their needs and then capitalise individually.
“This is 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.”
Okonkwo said that the United Airlines management was committed to further improving on its performance going further in spite of the challenges experienced in the past year.
The Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director of the airline, Mr Osita Okonkwo, said the company’s strategy going forward, was to continue on its growth path.
He said in spite of the challenges, the company survived and that it was grateful to God, the traveling public and the regulators, that had kept faith with the company.
He said the company, in 2023 and beyond, would continue to excel and improve its service to the traveling public and customers, focus 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 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 about to start Jos and Benin and other towns in the North- East and North-West will follow.
“We are going outside Nigeria, we are moving regionally, we are going through the regulatory process now; we have gotten our airline carriers permit.
“We have gotten designations to a number of countries, which will be announced soon,” he said.