For the past one week, domestic airlines have been experiencing scarcity of aviation fuel to power their aircraft. What would you say is responsible for this development?
Yes, the airlines are shouting, but the questions I will ask are: Are the marketers shouting? Are the marketers concerned? So what exactly is the problem? Is it a problem of scarcity or one of cost? If it is a problem of cost, is it that of the marketers or that of airlines? Cost in what form? Is it that it is high or because the marketers are not getting foreign exchange? Airlines are talking about scarcity, but are the marketers complaining?
Marketers, too, have been complaining about difficult access to foreign exchange to import. Don’t you see their complaint as genuine?
How are those who are bringing in premium motor spirit (PMS), that is, petrol, sourcing their foreign exchange? Are the marketers who are bringing in PMS different from those bringing in Jet A1? What is the problem? If they can bring in PMS, why can’t they bring in aviation fuel? What is the quantity of aviation fuel they will bring in compared to the quantity of PMS they are bringing in? We are consuming an average of 35 million litres per day of PMS while consuming only about 3m of aviation gas per day. So what is the problem? If you can get money to bring in PMS you are selling at N145, what is the problem of getting foreign exchange to bring in aviation gas which is just 3m per day? There is something that is going on that I think government needs to look into.
What is that thing?
It is a cabal. There is a kind of relationship between aviation gas and kerosene. Why is it that if kerosene, which is meant for the common man, is scarce aviation gas is scarce? The same problem aviation gas is having is the same problem kerosene is having, which is why the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should be involved in providing aviation fuel. The NCAA must find a way to get involved with the importation, distribution and marketing of the product so that it does not work parallel with kerosene. The way aviation gas is being sold, it is working parallel with kerosene. If kerosene is scarce, aviation gas is scarce.
But is aviation gas not also kerosene in its purest form?
That is it. People want to bring in kerosene and sell it as aviation gas; actually, that is what they have been doing. That is why I said there must be a template for aviation gas. NCAA must come out with a template for aviation gas and must get the marketers and the importers involved. If a marketer is bringing in aviation gas, it must be aviation gas and the NCAA must see it from the moment it lands at the wharf to the moment it gets to the aircraft.
But the way it is now, nobody monitors it. Up till about September last year, we had information that some marketers were selling kerosene as aviation gas. The airline operators themselves said it. The same vehicles that the marketers are using to carry petrol are also the same vehicles they are using to carry diesel, as they also using the same vehicles to transport kerosene and aviation fuel. I want to see a situation where vehicles that are bringing aviation gas to the airport are well defined and can be easily distinguished from any other vehicle. As it is, you can’t. They will tell you that they mark them out, but the markings are not visible. In those days, you could see the distinction from the distance. You could identify a vehicle that was carrying kerosene, that carrying diesel, etc. But now you cannot. There is a connivance between the marketers, the importers and to some extent the airlines themselves.
What is the solution?
The NCAA should find out why the airlines are not getting fuel. I just asked you a question: The same marketers that are bringing in 30m litres of PMS per day are the same people bringing 3m litres per day. So what is the problem? Is it foreign exchange? If they can get foreign exchange for PMS, why can’t they get foreign exchange for aviation gas? Let them tell us that the problem is from the central bank. That is why I said there is a problem somewhere because only the airlines are shouting, the marketers are not. It is a cabal at work gaining something from selling kerosene as Jet A1. Kerosene is costing as much as Jet A1 today if not higher.
Isn’t there a clear template for the importation of Jet A1?
That is why I said there should be a template for that in which the NCAA must be involved. If the NCAA is not involved in all these things, there is no way we will get out of it. We are fighting today to get zero tax for airlines and for them to have concession on foreign exchange. If we are doing that, we should be able to do the same thing for fuel. Thirty million litres of PMS, which I agree is for the common man, is available every day. So why can’t they get 3 million for aviation gas? Arik just said its daily consumption figure is 500,000 litres. Let other airlines take 1m. Each of about the 21 foreign airlines that come in would consume about 20,000 to 25,000 litres.
To what extent are the foreign airlines affected?
They are not affected, so where do they get their aviation fuel supply?
What if they come with their fuel?
They cannot bring enough fuel from Europe to this place and take it back; they would need to refuel, probably get it in Accra (Ghana). What is the cost in Accra? Why do they have it there that we cannot have it here? Seriously there is a problem. If it is cheaper there, why is it cheaper? We need to sit down and look at this. It is cheaper over there because the mago mago we do here with kerosene, they don’t do it there. Now it is N200 per litre in some locations. Now, if kerosene price is cheaper today, aviation gas price will drop.
How can the NCAA tackle the alleged corruption in the aviation fuel supply process?
That is why I said the NCAA should task the marketers. Is it the marketers who are selling arbitrarily? We need to find out the landing cost of Jet A1. When it became a problem to Virgin Atlantic, it decided to be buying fuel by itself directly from source and I have told the airlines themselves to get the fuel from source. They can do that but for them to do that, they will need to fight a lot of people, and that is why I said there is a cabal. Who are those importing the fuel? Who owns the fuel when it lands here? If you go deep into this, the people that are importing the fuel are probably different from the marketers.
There is serious corruption in the system. My major worry about this is selling kerosene as aviation gas. If I open Accident Reports for you to see, you would be worried. The AON (Airline Operators of Nigeria) chairman said it in September that the marketers were selling kerosene as aviation gas, and as I am speaking with you there are AIB reports on about two or three accidents pointing towards that direction. But what have we done on that?
You recently alleged that some airlines are not operating but they have operation certificates and access to fuel. How are they able to get fuel from the marketers?
It is quite easy for them to say, ‘I want to buy fuel’. He requests for 1m litres and he paid, though he doesn’t need it. It has been happening. The marketers want money. There are quite a lot of them (airlines) that are owing and the marketers don’t want to sell to them directly. So the other guy buys it at N170 and sells it at N180. That is why I said there is a cabal and for you to go into it, you must be within the cabal yourself. It is a very bad development, and that is why I said NCAA must be courageous to get involved with the aviation gas problem from source to the aircraft.
I put the problem squarely at the doorstep of the NCAA. If there is no political interference with the job of the NCAA, we shouldn’t have this problem we are having.