IT appears Arik Airline is really swimming in a scandalous debt mess. With over one billion naira the indigenous commercial carrier is allegedly owing the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the brunt of this indebtedness is now being squarely borne by passengers who have had their flights cancelled at least thrice last week.
ENCOMIUM Weekly scooped that all is indeed not well with one of Nigeria’s most successful air operators. Even when you go to any of the airports, the usual long queues witnessed at Arik counters have thinned, since passengers are weary of being disappointed.
Similarly, Arik management are now also wiser. What they do now is to work closely with other airlines, so they can easily transfer their passengers to any other available airline should the need arise.
In fact, Arik Air ticketing officers now sell Aero tickets, if they were not sure of their own flight.
“It’s not really the best of times for Arik and their passengers. But the co-operation between airline operators and their members is what is helping the situation a bit. The unsuspecting passengers who don’t even know Arik’s issue with FAAN are the ones who suffer the pains and frustration most. Arik has also lost millions of naira to the face-off with FAAN,” our source said.
Following the alleged N1.2 billion debt owed FAAN by Arik Air, the Association of Air Transport Association of Nigeria (ATTSAN) and the National Union of Air Transport Employers (NUATE), on Thursday April 23, 2015 grounded the airline’s scheduled flight operations from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, to other parts of the country.
Unfortunately, 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.
FAAN’s Managing Director, Mr. Saleh Dunoma had promptly hinted on efforts being made in Abuja with the two unions to resolve the crisis.
“Right now, Arik is discussing with the management of Abuja airport. As soon as they sort that out, they will resume flight operations,” he had said.
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 (PSC) of N1,000, the amount which is due to FAAN, running into millions of naira.
The source disclosed that what Arik owes FAAN from landing and parking fees is N1.2 billion, which is separate from the PSC.
The source further 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 Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, 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 the source, said it was the unions that did not allow Arik staff to process flight papers for passengers.
According to her, they owe 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.
“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 they gave people their money so that they could find alternative means of traveling.”
She also claimed Arik owed all the 22 airports across the country and not just Abuja alone.
“The N1.2 billion debt is for Abuja airport alone.”
Some Arik passengers booked for an evening flight from Owerri to Lagos were also frustrated with a disheartening last minute flight cancellation. Some lucky ones were however, reportedly transferred to Aero’s last flight to Lagos that Sunday, April 26, 2015. But it was not clear, if it was a technical problem or another FAAN sanction.
Meanwhile, Arik Air claimed it paid the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) about 4 billion in 2014, which included parking and landing fees; rent, Passenger Service Charge (PSC) and fuel surcharge.
The company made this known, following the allegation by FAAN that it owed the agency N1.2 billion debts, which included PSC and others. The airline’s alleged indebtedness led to the grounding of its operation from Abuja on Thursday.
It was gathered that in January 2014, Arik paid FAAN, N335, 562, 212. 50; in February 2014 it also paid to FAAN, N318, 575, 002. 50. In March 2014, the airline paid FAAN, N327, 359, 180. 00. Again in April 2014, it paid N370, 417, 622. 50. For June 2014, Arik paid to FAAN, N349, 471 655.00 and in July 2015, the airline paid FAAN, N315, 530, 737.50. Also in September the airline paid to FAAN, N344, 486, 305 and in December 2014, it also paid to FAAN, N447, 232, 602. 50, ENCOMIUM Weekly was reliably informed.
But FAAN insisted that the airline owed it N1.2 billion debts at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, which led to the Association of Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN) and the National Union of Air Transport Service Employees (NUATE) in Abuja to ground the airline’s operations on Thursday, April 23.
The airline was forced to cancel a total of 37 flights, leaving 5, 520 passengers meant to travel to various destinations from the Federal Capital Territory stranded.
It would be recalled that in 2012, FAAN grounded the operations of Arik Air over debts and during negotiation over the debts, it was agreed that while the old debts would be sorted out, the airline should pay its charges as it accrued. The airline said it has been paying its debts to FAAN as it accrued since then.