Confronted with a N100 billion debt on assumption of duty last week, the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, on Tuesday, hinted that the federal government would set up an Aviation Development Fund (ADF), to turnaround the present state of the sector and address the crippling debt crisis besetting the sector.
In his inaugural briefing with ministry staff and aviation reporters in Abuja, the minister who underscored the imperative of such fund, said aviation was a fundamental backbone of the economy and a zero-tolerance sector.
The outgoing Permanent Secretary, Hajia Binta Bello, in a formal handover note, said funding remained a critical challenge in the sector. She said: “Funding is the main issue in the aviation sector. When I took over in May, I met a debt of over N100 billion and I have not been able to pay back up to N1 billion which is a huge challenge.”
In what the minister described as moving the sector forward, he said: “Concerning the fund or aviation sector development fund, I have always argued since 2003, when I was in the House of Representatives that if we can have ship acquisition development fund and urban mass transit development fund, why then can we not have an aviation development fund.
“This type of fund is certainly not the type of fund that the government will intervene and take money and give it to whoever it wants and the person will run away and use the money to buy houses in Ghana, Dubai and so on.
According to him, the fund, after it is set up would be closely monitored by all stakeholders to advance the growth of the sector, and “actually aviation is a backbone for our economy, which is why when we achieve those funds this time, we will manage and monitor it in the best form possible.”
Obviously satisfied with the ongoing works at the five international terminals with the $500 million China Exim Bank loan, he added: “On the China Exim Bank projects, the work is a good development for our airports because we want to see beautiful edifices and flowers we see in Heathrow Airport here. We will make sure that those projects are completed. Primarily, there are those things that are very critical to the safety and efficiency of the sector.”
He said the onus for the implementation of the national carrier rested with President Muhammadu Buhari, adding: “They have submitted their recommendations and whether the report will be implemented or not is in the wisdom of the president, the federal executive council and the ministry.”
On the Abuja airport second runway, the minister acknowledged that it was long overdue and stressed he had clamoured for its establishment since 1996.
“It is a 30-year-old runway, the second busiest after the MMIA in Lagos. The economy is growing, business is growing and airline business is growing too. So if we don’t do something fast, the airport will fail like we experienced in Port Harcourt and we cannot afford that in Abuja.
“Port Harcourt airport started folding like a mat which led to the closure of the airport for about three years and if that happens in Abuja, the President will have to be landing in Kaduna before coming to Abuja.
“It will be a national embarrassment and I cannot fathom how that would happen. A single runway is just an invitation to disaster and that is why it is a must to get the second runway.”
The operators are not necessarily those who own airlines, there are also those who mount those machines, the pilots, the controllers, engineers and so on.
The question is, are these people appropriately trained? Are they proficient? Are they knowledgeable? experienced, healthy and so on. Also, are those equipment in good condition? Are they maintained? Because in aviation it is safety first.