$300 helicopter landing fee unanswered questions

The decision by the Federal Government to appoint Messr NAEBI Dynamic Concept Limited to exclusively collect helicopter landing fees at all Nigerian aerodromes, helipads, airstrips, floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) units, floating storage and offloading (FSO) units and all platforms has continued to open a fresh controversy in the sector.

The landing charge is unknown to the law, and not regulated by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). Aircraft after take-off are expected to land except we expect them not to land.

A recent memo by the Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development directed the operators to compulsorily pay landing fees at all Nigerian aerodromes, helipads, airstrips, floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) units, floating storage and offloading (FSO) units and other oil platforms.

According to the memo signed by the Minister, Festus Keyamo, the landing fees would exclusively be collected by a private company, NAEBI Dynamic Concept Limited.

 Capt. Ado Sanusi

“It is imperative that all operators and stakeholders fully comply with this mandate, by granting total access to Messrs NAEBI Dynamic Concept Limited for the collection of the levy, effective immediately, non-compliance with this directive will constitute a breach of this mandate and will be met with appropriate sanction,” the memo stated.

But helicopter operators have vowed to resist the payment and threatened to ground their operations if the Federal Government insists that they must pay the landing fees.

Not only helicopter operators kicked against it, but many others with connection with aviation have raised posers over the new directive that could effectively hamper oil and gas operations should the helicopter operators make good their threat to down tools.

The Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr. Festus Keyamo has never hidden his desire to raise money for the government through aviation.

He is poised to delve into areas never before gone into in his desire to generate revenue for the government.

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It is true that immediately after the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr Festus Keyamo was appointed, he made it clear to everyone who cared to listen that President, Bola Tinubu, had alerted them on the need to generate more revenue for the government.

The manner the government is approaching revenue generation is akin to one wanting to squeeze water out of an already broken coconut and one that could harm the sector.

In his first official visit to Lagos airport immediately after he assumed office, he said, “We have been given a mandate to raise revenue for the government. Please, contact the advertising agencies so they can put up adverts on all these spaces. “We cannot have all these spaces and be talking about lack of funds. All details on your findings should be sent to me in seven days.”

To show the government’s desire to rake in more money through aviation, it directed parastatals classified as “super agencies” which are self-funded to remit 50 per cent of their Internally Generated Revenues (IGR) to the government coffers.

Aviation analysts and stakeholders have raised an alarm over the development which they said threatens the safety of the industry as agencies are expected to reinvest their surplus in safety-critical projects as recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

ICAO recommends that service providers in the aviation industry, which are government agencies, should engage in cost recovery, but unfortunately, the government has turned the agencies into profit-making organisations in the aviation industry

One can now understand the new directive granted to NAEBI Dynamic Concept Limited which may be counterproductive not only for the aviation industry but also for the oil and gas sector which is very critical to the economy of the nation.

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The NAEBI contract with the Federal Government is not clear-cut and one that lacks clear understanding for many. The helicopter landing fee is ‘A big time fraud’ according to a former managing director of one of the agencies in aviation who pleaded anonymity.

There is no basis for the landing charge because the operators pay for services rendered to them and the helipads where helicopters land and take off in offshore operations and elsewhere are owned by international oil companies and therefore, not property of the Federal Government. The operators pay their due charges to aviation agencies.

Asking companies to pay $300 even when they land on their property, where is that done anywhere in the world? We need examples of where this is done. Is this company building helipads for Nigeria? What exactly is the value added?

Not a few are asking what process the Ministry followed before appointing the company for revenue collection. Was there any industry engagement before the company was appointed?

Aside from that, Nigerians are asking for the sharing formula and the contract details with NAEBI to understand the scope of the entire contract.

The Managing Director and CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, noted that helicopter operators may likely shut down their operations or go to court.

“First the assumption that helicopters are not regulated is not correct. Helicopter operations are fully regulated as any other aircraft operations in Nigeria. Three basic parastatals form the basis with which helicopters are operated in Nigeria with financial returns rigidly and religiously remitted to our nation’s coffers – NAMA, NCAA and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

“Normally, to start your helicopter engine at any airport in Nigeria, you are required to have filed a flight plan with payment made to NAMA for that flight. As you fly from that airport to any other airport or facility, be it helideck, heliport or open field, you are in continuous radio communication with NAMA air traffic controllers, to/fro your flights. At the end of every month, NAMA produces the list of all your radio contacts with the controllers and the routes flown; then a bill is generated and forwarded to you of which you must remit that invoice to NAMA,” the operators said.

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They also stated that whenever a helicopter lands in any airport in Nigeria, FAAN staff or FAAN-appointed agents, without fail, “are always on the ground to collect landing fees from the helicopter”.

Operators are heavily burdened in the aviation environment and some industry experts believe that this is the main reason the industry is not growing but has remained a cesspit for loss of investment.

The helicopter operators insisted that the payment is mandated to be done in Dollars when the country’s currency is the Naira.

“Then the Minister’s directive that everybody should give access to the company so that they monitor you, raises another question: what is that payment for?“ I see this act as sabotage against the Federal Government’s current drive to increase the volume of crude oil that is produced in the country.

“We are trying to ramp up operations and they are now bringing this. There are no spare parts and the acquisition of equipment is very difficult now; yet, the government wants to increase the oil output. And I still wonder why they are not paying to the government account,” Sanusi stated.

Wole Shadare

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