Following the N1.2 billion debt owed the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) by Arik Air, the Association of Air Transport Association of Nigeria (ATTSAN) and the National Union of Air Transport Employers (NUATE), on Thursday grounded the airline’s scheduled flight operations from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, to other parts of the country.
As at the time of filing this report, the airline’s 13 scheduled flights to different parts of the country were automatically cancelled with hundreds of passengers going through excruciating time trying to take alternative airlines to their destinations.
While speaking on the phone from Lagos, FAAN’s Managing Director, Mr. Saleh Dunima, said efforts were however being made in Abuja with the two unions to resolve the crisis.
He said: “Right now, Arik is discussing with the management of Abuja airport, as soon as they sort that out, they will resume flight operations.”
Asked to speak on the profile of the indebtedness, he refused to make its disclosure, explaining that the amount being owed is not supposed to be in public domain.
Speaking on anonymity, an authority hinted that the Arik air had also failed to remit the passengers service charge of N1,000, the amount which is due to FAAN also runs into millions.
The source disclosed that what Arik is owing FAAN from landing and parking fees is N1.2 billion, which is separate from the PSC.
He said Arik could only be allowed to commence flight operations if they can pay a substantial percentage of the amount before the close of work yesterday.
The source said the allocation of slots seven and eighth to Arik which covers operations within the 22 airports would have been an added advantage to the airline, adding that some local airline operators do not have such advantage of flying the 22 airports.
On the stranded passengers due to travel to Ibadan, Ilorin and Gombe from the NAIA, he said Arik’s management in conjunction with FAAN were able to arrange alternative flight using Overland airlines for the stranded passengers.
Also speaking, FAAN’s spokesperson in Abuja, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, while corroborating our source, said it was the unions that did not allow Arik staff to process flight papers for passengers.
According to her, they are owing FAAN about N1 billion, and so ATTSAN and NUATE decided to come in. She said FAAN had tried all they could without success and it was therefore the last resort for the unions to get the money out.
She said: “The two unions are doing this without even informing FAAN management. We all came here this morning to find out that staffers of the airline were not allowed into the terminal and offices to work.”
On the stranded passengers, she said FAAN called Arik to intervene, adding: “Right now they are giving people their money so that they can find alternative means of traveling.”
She said Arik was owing all the 22 airports across the country and not just Abuja alone.
The N1.2 billion debt is for Abuja airport alone, she stressed.
The Corporate Communications Manager, Mr. Ola Banji, who spoke briefly on telephone, said the management of the company was articulating a statement on the issue which would be made available later. The statement was not available as at the time the paper was going to press.
Efforts to speak to speak with the Minister of Aviation, Mr. Osita Chidoka, was fruitless as he didn’t pick his calls. He also did not respond to the SMS and e-mail sent to him.