The International Air Transport Association has expressed concern over the decision by the Federal Government of Nigeria to block foreign airlines from repatriating ticket sales revenue running to $450m (N188.6bn) into their respective countries.
IATA, the Geneva-based trade body representing over 200 international carriers, spoke at a press briefing marking the opening of its 78thn Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit in Doha, Qatar on Sunday.
IATA’s Regional Vice President, Africa & Middle East, Kamil Al-Alawadhi, said the Federal Government’s decision was unacceptable, adding that the development could have a negative effect on Nigeria’s aviation industry.
The amount of foreign airlines’ blocked funds in Nigeria estimated at $208m in the third quarter of last year had risen to $283m in the first quarter of this year.
The reported foreign exchange shortage in Nigeria has forced the Central Bank of Nigeria to give priority to certain sectors of the economy in terms of approving requests for forex.
But Alawadhi told journalists that aviation was key to Nigeria’s economic growth and there was a need for the CBN to grant foreign access to repatriate their ticket sales revenue.
According to him, the aviation sector is responsible for the creation of thousands of jobs and it will be wrong for the Nigerian government to deny carriers the opportunity to repatriate their revenue.
Al-Awadhi said he had made come to Nigeria to meet with government officials over the blocked funds but he had yet to get the government’s commitment on it.
He, however, said IATA officials would visit the country soon over the development.
The IATA VP said, “Nigeria needs to start reducing the backlog. The Central Bank of Nigeria was not forthcoming on the blocked funds. It is sad that Nigeria owes the bulk of the entire blocked funds. This is very unacceptable”.
“We heard that there is a shortage of dollars. It has been a hectic ride. We met with the Vice-President. We will keep checking. This is going to damage the image of the country. We are hoping that it will go down well. The figure is huge”.
According to him, the development is happening at a time carriers are coming out of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic which has affected carriers globally.
Al-Awadhi said the situation had forced airlines to get funds from their reserves to finance operations.