By Omar Bah
The Gambia Civil Aviation Authority has defended its plans to increase security and other charges at the airport but denied any influence from Securiport over the decision.
Last month, a GCAA letter addressed to airline operators and other stakeholders leaked in the media, revealed that the existing £1.50 airport security fee charge on tickets will go up to $5 and will be added to the $20 currently collected by Securiport to make it $25 which will then be added in airline tickets by GCAA effective 1st May.
The decision has since been greeted with heavy criticism with some pointing fingers at Securiport, a company tasked to collect security fees for the government which is deposited in a joint account before it is shared between them (Securiport) and the government.
But speaking to The Standard in an exclusive interview Friday at his office, the GCAA Director General, Fansu Bojang said the decision was purely taken in good faith and Securiport has nothing to do with it.
“This has not been triggered by Securiport interest but by the state and when I say the state, I mean the Civil Aviation as the operator of the airport for the convenience of the passengers because the physical collection of security levy has been seen as a great bottleneck in facilitation. It also has an adverse impact on passenger movement because sometimes people come to the airport and they don’t have cash or their cards are not working,” he noted.
DG Bojang said his office felt that if the charges are absorbed in the air tickets, it will allow them to stop Securiport from the physical collection.
“This would now form part of the ticket and the passengers would not have to go through the turmoil of queuing to pay for security fees on arrival or on departure. I emphasise, this was not triggered by Securiport but our own concern and the need to make facilitation more friendly for the passengers,” he added.
DG Bojang added that the decision to take the collection from Securiport has nothing to do with the issue of trust or capacity lapses in their collection system. “It is purely based on our decision and the need to improve on facilitation,” he noted. He admitted that the passengers will have to pay the bills even if the fees are included in the air tickets.
DG Bojang said the process has gone through all internal consultations and the GCAA has been given the green light to proceed and review some of these charges. He said the decision was triggered by the huge investments that the state has been doing in the airport infrastructure since 1999 to date.
“Since 1999, the airport fees have not been reviewed or increased and the only charges increased over the period was the airport development levy of 20 pounds which was introduced in 2011. So, even our stakeholders know they are constantly increasing their charges particularly air tickets depending on market activities because obviously they are into business and they have to operate viably. When there are movements in fuel prices around the globe upward, airlines instantly increase their tickets. But we have not been doing that and you cannot tell me over 30 years there has been no inflation or changes in cost of pressure,” he argued.
DG Bojang said the GCAA has over the years expended millions of dollars on refurbishments to ensure they have a functional and user-friendly airport.
“We just inaugurated and finished the rehabilitation of the terminal building and we have also completed doubling the capacity on our aircraft packing from 45, 000 to 90,000 square metres. We also built multiple exit routes and all these are in millions of dollars. So, certainly when we invest the return of investment has to be recovered from the users of the airport,” he added.
He said the proposed charges were presented to the airlines and they found it to be reasonable after consulting within themselves during a meeting attended by members of the Competition Commission.
“It was after that meeting that the stakeholders asked us to formally write to them about the decision. So, this doesn’t just come out of the blue,” he concluded.
Nigeria along with Liberia and six other countries (Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Bangui, Sierra Leone, the Republic of Congo, and Niger) have been listed by IATA as among the African countries with highest airport taxes and charges.