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Why waivers should be extended to ground handlers – SAHCO MD

Basil Agboarumi is the managing director/CEO, Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) PLC. In this interview, he speaks on why ground handlers should be given certain waivers in a bid to help them recover from the effects of COVID-19 and cushion impacts of high exchange rates on their operations.

What is your say about SAHCO operations one year after covid-19 lock down?

You cannot take God out of anything we do. We give God the glory. When the pandemic started last year, we never understood where we were going to land. It came suddenly and the industry was shut down. As operators in the aviation industry, we were not left out, especially the passengers operations that were shut down totally, even the cargo operators too. But as we were understanding the nature of the pandemic, the Ministry and other stakeholders and leaders in the industry saw the need to gradually open up cargo because even though people cannot move, people will still eat; trucks that were needed or PPEs needed to fight the pandemic needed to move around. The cargo was on gradual opening especially when the world was not too sure of the nature of the pandemic in question.

There were lots of questions that needed to be answered. We as a member of the airport services association, that is the body that brings aviation handlers together across the world, were also getting correspondences from outside leadership on things that were going on. So we’re watching and monitoring especially as it has to do with protocols that the government were releasing and the ones from International Air Transport Association (IATA) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). There were meetings, even with the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA) and at a point there was total lock down and all our staff had to stay at home. That began to lead to our gradual opening of our warehouse in Lagos. From that time, before we got to July, we had seen the cargo operations gradually opened. In July, we had gotten to a point that the local aviation industry had to be opened. We were important in the opening. If you look at it from 2019 till now, it is still very down and low.

The full capacity as what was on ground in 2019 is not totally back. That could be as a result of many reasons, considering what the airlines are going through. Some aircraft are down and they are not coming up because of the paucity of forex. Many of the parts for maintenance needed are not things you can buy from here. This time around people want to fly but the capacity is not there because many people are afraid to travel on the road because of insecurity on the roads. This is the time aviation should have taken full advantage but the number of aircraft on ground cannot fully meet up the demands. Cargo has made great improvements but not fully where we are in 2019. On cargo and passengers, both international and domestic, we are at about 60 percent because some of the airlines have not returned back as we talk. On domestic, we can say all the airlines have resumed but not at that capacity that we were at December 2019.

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What is your take on duty waivers on importation and five percent concession fees charges for ground handlers?

For the waiver, we have been talking about this. For us in ground handling, we are almost beginning to sound like a broken record. It is an issue that we have been talking about because this is aviation. Ground handling is so key in flight operations and movement of passengers, baggage and cargo from one point to another. We felt that no matter what the government is doing for the airlines, ground handling should be included and benefit from it too. It is just the same way aircraft are gotten from abroad that our own are brought in because none of our equipment is manufactured in Nigeria. We also place orders so that the manufacturers do them. We pay quite a lot of money to get in our handling equipment. We believe that what should be done is that the same kind of waivers that the airlines are enjoying should also be extended to us to make life easier for us. Recently, we formed an association and this is one of the major things that they are to fight like this. But we are taking our case to the government, Ministry of Aviation and the NCAA as the representative of government in the aviation industry.

How much do you think SAHCO could save if you are given waivers on import duties?

It is huge. We spent N36 million to clear one of our equipment recently. Sometimes, you have some of our equipment that goes for as much as one million dollars. We have equipment like that. As I talk to you, there are equipment we placed orders for since early 2020. By the time the pandemic started, we still wanted to go on but we couldn’t raise funds. There was one that finished manufacturing and we didn’t have money to pay, so they have to give it to another ground handling company. Sometimes, it takes about six months to produce ground handling equipment. These are some of the challenges. We fabricate those ones we have the capacity to do.

What is the update on the efforts of your staff who are now fabricating equipment for your company’s use?

When pandemic came, we shifted our attention. We did a lot of fabrication of sanitising machines. So they came up with quite a lot of them. Even what we did is what they are using in some of the subsidiary companies.

Are you marketing them?

What we do about them is to talk about them which is the thing we are doing. I don’t know if they have finished the water toilet bowser they are doing recently. Building the vehicle head drive system is difficult. We do a lot of towables and I know that even up till recently, I see quite a lot of them at the stage of fabrication, and it is still on at the moment. We do a lot of baggage dollies; we buy then we support with our internal sources. Sometimes, we even fabricate steps when we need to because some aircraft come in with some special steps. If we know that that is the business we need, then we do the fabrication. We do a lot of toilet bowser and they are very unique. An Oil and gas firm approached us in 2019 but the contract was not sealed.

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