As the cost of one-way airfare for international flights continues to skyrocket from N300,000 to N1.5 million in economy class and with foreign airlines complaining about the non-release of the balance of their trapped funds, the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agents (NANTA) has called on the Federal Government to call roundtable stakeholders meeting to resolve the lingering issue.
The President of NANTA, Mrs. Susan Akporiaye made the call while speaking with select journalists in the company of her management team on the latest fare hike by foreign airlines, the multiplier effect of not allowing international airlines to repatriate their funds and the effect it is having on Nigeria traveling public and NANTA itself.
She said the stakeholder’s meeting should involve the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Ministry of Finance, Minister of Aviation, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the International Air Transport Association(IATA) foreign airlines and NANTA.
She pointed out that by doing this a long-lasting solution will be found, warning that NANTA as a critical stakeholder should not be excluded from the meeting.
She hinted that NANTA has been engaging foreign airlines and that from the several meetings the body has had with the airlines concerning payment and trapped funds it was clear that they are ready to discuss the issue.
She stated that in between these strangulating circumstances, the airlines withdrew lower inventories across the board, selling at the highest possible openings as a way to cushion the effect of their trapped funds.
On the part of the Federal Government, she said that NANTA has severally tried to engage the government but that the government has been elusive, adding that NANTA cannot explain why it is running from discussing the issue.
Akporiaye said that though the Federal Government has released N265 million about 50 percent of the total amount of airlines funds trapped, its findings however revealed that some of the airlines have received 25 percent of the funds released while some of the airlines have not received at all.
This situation, she said, has created a lack of trust on the part of the government.
She further said that this has made some airlines close their inventory, while those who have not closed theirs are selling tickets and exploiting Nigerians with their exploitative fares.
The NANTA President said that in as much as NANTA is not in support of the skyrocketing fares foreign airlines operating into the country are charging Nigerians, they however have the right to repatriate their funds to their respective countries in line with the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) the Federal Government signed with the countries the affected airlines represent.
On whether the foreign airlines are selling tickets in Dollars as alleged in some quarters, she said, “they are not selling in Dollars but they are selling in Naira but at higher fares.”
According to her, “The Federal Government has failed the foreign airlines. We have failed on BASA. All the airlines have a right to stop flying into Nigeria but because we have a relationship with them they are still operating. Our Minister is looking for airlines selling tickets in Dollars to punish. I wish him luck.”
On the effect of this on travel agents which she represents, Akporiaye said that travel agencies are already closing shops and taking up other jobs like farming to keep body and soul together, adding that the earlier the government intervenes the better for the travel industry.
She noted that despite the closure of shops by most members, she said that NANTA still believes that the Federal Government will address the issue.
In her words, “Our business is on the verge of collapse and our staff with families and at this trying times may be forced into the streets.”
Akporiaye posited that the release of $265 million in trapped funds by the Federal Government instead of breathing a return to order emboldened the foreign airlines to visit Nigeria traveling public with the most exploitative response in the name of protecting their business.
She alleged that the exploitative fare is targeted at Nigeria and Nigerians adding that this treatment was meted out to fellow African countries where their funds are also being trapped.
“It is said that Nigerians buy tickets to the tune of N3 million to N4 million and be charged as high as N1 million to change travel dates even on tickets bought before the crisis started.
“This is unacceptable, exploitative and hostile to the survival of the Nigerian aviation downstream sector and to which call for sanity and return to the best inventory practice and deployment,” she said.
She thanked the Federal Government for releasing part of the trapped funds , urging it to release the balance, as this would further create confidence in the airlines to continue to operate into