By Yusuf Babalola

United Nigeria Airline (UNA) has disclosed that local airline operators can no longer survive at the regular commercial foreign exchange rate in the country.

Speaking in Abuja, over the weekend, at a retreat organized by the management of United Nigeria Airlines to mark its two- year operation in the aviation industry, the airline’s chairman, Prof. Obiora Okonkwo, however, demanded special funding window for the aviation sector to thrive.

According to him, providing special funding window for operators in the aviation sector became necessary given its essential duty nature and its growing contribution to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

He said, since other sector of the economy, such as, agriculture enjoyed such privileges, it should also be extended to the aviation sector.

“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 accessible. We still believe that this government has done a lot for the aviation industry, though, more needs to be done.

“We think 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,” Okonkwo said.

According to him, 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, created employment.

sector 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 and 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 stressed.

He emphasized further that there was need for government to consider a special funding for the sector operators.

“Government should consider a window of special Funds at a single unit loan for the operators because it is 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.

“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 said.

Speaking earlier, the chief operating officer of the airline, Osita Okonkwo, said the company’s strategy would be to continue its growth part.

He said, despite challenges, the company survived, saying it was grateful to God, the travelling public and the regulators that have kept fate with the company.

“We have started 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, and we have gotten our airline carriers permit. We have got designations to several countries, which will be announced soon,” he said.

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