Airlines and the Unending Fuss Over Debts

Lagos — The event of penultimate Wednesday was one that caught many people by surprise. Many passengers had booked flights to many parts of Nigeria on the fateful day not having the slightest inkling of the disappointment awaiting them. Other members of Arik staff too never anticipated the blockade they experienced as the aviation workers stormed the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Mohammed Airport (MMA) which is the airline’s operational base to picket the company.

Airlines and the Unending Fuss Over Debts
Airlines and the Unending Fuss Over Debts

Bearing placards with different inscriptions, the workers representing the major aviation unions – the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association (ATSSAN) – alleged that Arik Air is owing FAAN N12.4bn and on that basis decided to stage the protest.

Based on the development, Arik Air which is the largest indigenous airline in the country with over 100 flight schedules everyday was forced to cancel its flights for the day.

Part of the statement signed by Arik Air’s spokesman read, “The current situation is deeply out of control of Arik Air and the management of the airline has been compelled to suspend all domestic operations for today. This will remain in force until such a time the unfortunate situation is resolved.

Arik Air sincerely apologises for the inconveniences the FAAN workers’ union action may have caused its esteemed passengers. We live to serve the needs of the people of the great nation, Nigeria. We look forward to working collaboratively with FAAN and other aviation agencies to resolve the impasse and return to our core purpose of providing essential world class services to the people of Nigeria.”

On his part, ATSSAN President, Mr. Benjamin Okewu, said “What happened today was not a protest. FAAN workers who rendered services to Arik decided to withdraw their services because Arik is not paying them for the services they are rendering. So it is different entirely from a protest. It was never a picketing but an action taken by FAAN workers to show that they are not rendering services to Arik again.”

In fact just 24 hours after the Arik issue, the NCAA issued a stern warning to all domestic airlines to immediately forward in full unremitted funds accruable to the authority without further delay.

Director-General of NCAA, Capt. Mukhtar Usman, who presided over a meeting with the airlines said the five per cent TSC and CSC was collected at source from the air passengers by the airlines on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

According to the DG, the sales charges are to enable all aviation agencies carry out their responsibilities of providing safe, secure and efficient regulatory services for the overall benefits of all aviation stakeholders.

Usman directed that all unremitted funds must be forwarded in full to the NCAA immediately, saying, “The airlines must desist from using these funds held in trust.”

Another pending issue was the alleged arbitrary and illegal charges imposed by FAAN on ground handling companies which was raised recently by NUATE in a March 22 letter addressed to the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, wherein the union listed various charges and levies which they termed exploitative.

However FAAN, which responded through its General Manager Corporate Communications, Mr. Yakubu Dati, said “There is a ministerial committee set up by the ministry to address charges by agencies. It is expected that those with such complaints on charges approach and exploit this window. As a responsible organisation, we await the findings of the highly respected committee.”

However, the management of Arik Air which called a press conference the following day after the picketing, said it was astounded by the action of the union because the issue in contention is before a Federal High Court in a suit filed against it by FAAN.

Besides, the then permanent secretary in the Ministry of Aviation, Hajia Binta Bello, had set up a committee to look into the issues between FAAN and Arik.