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Oil production: Helicopter operators threaten shutdown over $300 new levy

Nigeria may experience another major disruption in oil production if helicopter operators providing services to oil rigs across the country go ahead with their threat to ground operations.

This followed the introduction of a new $300 levy by the federal government through the Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development.

A consultant, NAEBI Dynamic Concept, has been contracted to collect the levy on behalf of the government.

But the operators, who have been at loggerheads with the immediate past government when Hadi Sirika was minister,  have insisted on not paying the levy which they described as illegal.

Current Minister of Aviation, Festus Keyamo, SAN, had during the first stakeholders’ meeting held in Lagos, denounced the levy, saying he was not privy to the contract and promised to investigate.

But he later backtracked, saying upon investigation he found out that the levy was in the best interest of Nigeria.

A recent memo signed by the minister directed helicopter operators to compulsorily pay helicopter landing fees at all Nigerian aerodromes, helipads, airstrips, floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) units, floating storage and offloading (FSO) units and other oil platforms.

“It is imperative that all operators and stakeholders fully comply with this mandate, by granting total access to Messrs NAEBI Dynamic Concept Limited for the collection of the levy, effective immediately, noncompliance with this directive will constitute a breach of this mandate and will be met with appropriate sanction,” the memo stated.

But the operators, mostly serving the oil and gas companies, have threatened to ground their operations over the new levy to  be paid exclusively to the consultant.

Daily Trust reports that the threat is posing a problem to crude oil exploration as Nigeria struggles to meet its OPEC quota.

According to the operators, the new levy, meant to be paid in dollars, is alien to the industry as they already pay statutory fees to aviation agencies including the remittance of 5% charge to the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

One of the operators who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “We need to clarify that it is not true that helicopters are not regulated. We pay the statutory charges to the NCAA, NAMA (Nigeria Airspace Management Agency) and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

“NAMA is aware of your flight plan even before you start your engine. At least when you take off from an airport to any facility, be it helipad, or open field, NAMA is aware of the flight and you are in constant communication with the ATC (Air traffic controller). So you now tell me why the need for another $300 per flight? Is that the way to raise revenue.”

The Managing Director and CEO of Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi, noted that operators already pay for services rendered to them.

General Secretary of Aviation Roundtable, Olumide Ohunayo, in an interview with our correspondent said it was wrong that the letter was addressed directly to the operators instead of the agencies concerned that are supposed to interface with the operators.

According to him, some of the operators had  claimed not to have seen the letter.

“It was even disseminated on social media before the operators got it. I just hope we will get over this urge to always post official memos on social media.

He said while he is not against raising revenue for the government but commensurate services should be provided for those services.

While defending the charges recently, Keyamo on Channels TV said, though he inherited the project from his predecessor, he had discovered that the newly introduced charge is a good deal for Nigeria.

“It is a good deal. Before, we had helicopters totally unregulated. We have lost millions and billions of dollars. In fact Nigerians believed that helicopters had been flying and landing across this country without paying anything, totally unregulated.

“Government is a continuum, if you see a good idea, accept it. It is not everything I cancelled. I suspended Nigeria Air but this one I didn’t suspend it,” he said.

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