Flight disruptions loom as ground handlers begin strike

There may be delays and cancellations of flights in the coming days as ground handling companies in the country are set to commence indefinite strike from Friday, November 5th, 2021. The ground handling companies have said they will be embarking on an indefinite strike because of the federal government’s refusal to implement the new ground […]

Flight disruptions loom as ground handlers begin strike
Flights

There may be delays and cancellations of flights in the coming days as ground handling companies in the country are set to commence indefinite strike from Friday, November 5th, 2021.

The ground handling companies have said they will be embarking on an indefinite strike because of the federal government’s refusal to implement the new ground handling safety rates as earlier promised.

Ground handlers are responsible for loading and unloading freight and baggage from the planes including additional jobs to prepare the aircraft for its next flight amongst others.

Recently, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) gave approval to the ground handling companies in the country to increase the new safety threshold handling rates after 36 years with commencement dates slated for October 1, 2021 (for international flights) and January 1, 2022 (for local flights) operators, but the House Committee on Aviation directed it to stop the implementation forthwith.

With the new rates, the handlers could charge between $1,500 and $5,000 (passenger and cargo flights) for narrow and wide-body aircraft on international routes, respectively, while for domestic operators it was upped to N20,000 and N70,000, depending on the aircraft type.

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With the approval, the ground handling companies in Nigeria; the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Plc, the Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) Plc, Precision Aviation Handling Company Limited (PAHCOL) and the Swissport Handling Company, were expected to charge the same handling rates as their counterparts in the sub-African countries.

Stakeholders say the planned strike action on the industry may cripple the aviation sector.

This is also as stakeholders warn that Nigeria may lose the United States Federal Aviation Administration (USFAA) Category One Status if the political class such as the National Assembly, especially the House Committee on Aviation continues to interfere unnecessarily.

“I think the National Assembly should back off from interfering with the decisions taken by the regulator of the industry. This will not augur well for us. We cherish our achievements on the safety level, based on the prowess of our regulator and the ability to sustain it over the years and that has made them to retain all certifications,” Olumide Ohunayo, director, research, Zenith Travel said.

Ohunayo said stakeholders in the sector would not want all the safety status achieved to be ridiculed by interference in the decisions taken by the regulator.

” This is never done and never accepted. The world is watching us. So, we appeal to the House Committee on Aviation and Senate Committee to back off from the decisions taken by NCAA with respect to the industry.

“Rather, all they can do is to advise or raise a resolution and pass it across to the regulator or ask other industry players to speak on such issues instead of interfering directly on such issues. It boomeranged with what has happened with the AOC of NG Eagle and it also boomeranged with the pressure being put on the ground handlers,” he advised.

Gabriel Olowo, President, Sabre Network, West Africa and president, Aviation Round Table said political interference especially where it hinges on safety should be condemned in very strong terms, adding that global aviation frowns at such scenario.

Olowo also the increment in the ground handling rates are justifiable given global economic indexes on all factors of production that has increased astronomically, including severe currency fluctuations.

“Refusal by government not to allow the prices to be driven by market forces suggests that the operators may be enjoying all sorts of subsidies, waivers, etc,” he said.

John Ojikutu, CEO, Centurion Security Services said what the NCAA did is the oversight right given to it by the provisions of the economic regulations in the Nig CARs Part 18 on all operators – government or private and allied services.

Ojikutu added that the handling rates approved for the ground handling companies are not different from similar provisions for the airlines fare tariff; unfortunately, it has not been known if any airline has ever applied for fare increase.

“The Nig.CARs is a legal authority of the NASS to the NCAA to perform the functions of regulating service rates and fare charges. None of the NASS chambers can interfere into the law it has legislated on except the Court. The problem of our legislators is that they have no sufficient knowledge of how the laws they made work for the purpose they were meant to serve.

“Political interference has been some form of deterrence in the progress of our economic sector and has caused the defunct or the downfalls of most Nigerian airlines, including the Nigeria Airways.

“Political actors in and out of government often ask for debts concessions or government intervention funds for private operators and sometimes government services providers where they have personal and individual interests,” he explained.