Nigeria’s domestic airlines in crisis •As another airline suspends operations •NCAA dismisses airlines fold up claims •We are undergoing maintenance —FirstNation

Obviously, there is trouble with domestic airline operations in Nigeria and if urgent steps are not taken by the Federal Government, all the local airlines presently operating may soon shut down their operations.

Only Wednesday, Aero Contractors, one of the oldest airlines in the country, in a controversial manner, shut down its operations indefinitely, over what the management attributed to the current economic situation in the country.

The latest information gathered on Thursday again indicated that another domestic carrier, FirstNation might soon suspend its operations, making it two domestic airlines to temporarily shut down within a week.

Though the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) was evasive on the issue, but in a statement it issued, explained that the FirstNation Airlines was suspending operations as it was in the middle of an “engine replacement programme for one of its aircraft, while another aircraft is due for mandatory maintenance as its allowable by the regulatory authority.

“In other words, any airline with one aircraft is in contravention of the authority’s regulations and, therefore, cannot be adjudged to be capable of providing safe operation. The only option available is to suspend your operations temporarily, while other aircraft arrive in due course.”

Based on NCAA’s statement, the FirstNation has no choice but to suspend its operations, as its two planes have issues.

But in playing safe, the regulatory body, the NCAA, has claimed that the domestic airlines are not winding down, but merely suspending operations to enable them undertake certain operational overhaul and strengthen their overall operational outlay.

According to the Director-General of NCAA, Captain Mukhtar Usman: “One of the airlines, Aero Contractors Limited, at present, has only one serviceable aircraft. This in contradiction to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig.CARS) which stipulates that no airline operator shall carry out schedule commercial operation with only one aircraft. The minimum acceptable number is three aircraft.

“In these circumstances, these airlines clearly cannot continue to undertake schedule operations, hence the inevitable recourse to self regulatory suspension.”

Confirming the development, a source close to FirstNation said what the airline management did was voluntary to ensure maintenance took place.

Besides the two domestic airlines that have suspended their operations, the few still in operations are doing so with pains, in view of the present economic hardship aggravated by unstable and non-availability of forex, expensive aviation fuel and multiple taxation.

With the suspension of operations by Aero Contractor and FirstNation, Nigeria is now left with six domestic airlines— MedView, Arik, Dana, Air Peace, Azman and Overland Airways.

From investigations, many of the domestic airlines lack the financial muscle to weather the storm in the face of the ongoing economic recession which has become more complicated, with the huge gap between Dollar and the Naira.

While many of the domestic carriers are indebted to their workers for months, many of their aircraft that went out for various maintenance checks are grounded in countries across the world, owing to lack of financial capability as compounded by high exchange rate.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), on Thursday, dismissed claims that some airlines were winding up their operations in the country.

The authority dismissed the claims in a statement signed by the NCAA Director-General, Captain Muhtar Usman, in Lagos.

Usman said on the contrary, the airlines were merely suspending their operations temporarily to enable them undertake certain operational overhaul and strengthen their overall operational outlay.

Usman, however, said NCAAs Regulations provided a window for such operator to embark on non- schedule operations in the interim.

Also, the management of FirstNation has reacted to the news that it is suspending its operations, saying contrary to the information that the airline was undergoing maintenance on its A319 aircraft fleet.

While saying the maintenance exercise would be completed on or before September 15, the head of commercial in the airline, Serah Awogbade, declared that the airline planned this maintenance action well ahead and notified passengers just as “flights are currently loaded online effective September 15, this will ensure that passengers continue to enjoy safe and reliable service that the airline is reputed for.”

Aviation unions take over Aero Airline’s head office

There seems to be more troubles for Aero Contractor, which announced the suspension of its operations on Wednesday over financial predicaments, as aviation unions took over the airline’s head office over the accusation that the airline management failed to follow the country’s labour laws.

The unions, comprising the Air Traffic Services Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN) and the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), attributed their decision to take over the airline head office to the indefinite leave given to its over 1,400 workers.

The airline, before its final suspension of operations, had gone through challenges, ranging from huge debts, family crisis, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) initial business decisions and weak and ineffective management.

At the Aero head office on Thursday, the workers, led by union leaders, were seen in front of the office singing solidarity songs, asking God to lead the workers in pursuing this case.

Speaking, the president of ATSSSAN, Comrade Okewu, said what Aero management had just done by locking out the workers was shocking, insisting that negotiation was still ongoing when Aero management sent the workers on indefinite leave.

While saying some of the workers, who were on night duty were locked in, Okewu said the workers decided to take over the airline because the management of the airline sent workers on indefinite leave without paying them their salaries and other entitlements.

Okewu said the unions would not take lightly what Aero’s management had done, declaring that under the labour law, the company was bound to pay workers their entitlements.

Also speaking, the Assistant General Secretary, NUATE, Comrade Olayinka Abioye, alleged that Aero’s management locked in workers that performed night duty and locked out other workers, who had reported for duty.

“You can imagine a situation, where somebody who had worked for 15 years will be paid half a month for that number of years and with this half month pay, while severance benefits cannot be paid until nine months,” he said.