Government gives Arik Air, agencies two weeks to resolve issues of indebtedness
Airline says it paid N18.9 billion to FAAN
The Federal Government yesterday gave the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Arik Air Group two weeks to resolve all issues relating to indebtedness between the respective organisations.
Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, who gave the directive at a meeting with the management of Arik Air in his office yesterday, directed the parties to report back to him after the two weeks period with a resolution on amount owed, payment plans and the way forward.
According to the minister, the issue of alleged indebtedness by Arik Air that has led to disagreements with some trade unions within the regulatory agencies was highly regrettable, adding that while government will not condone lawlessness within the industry, all airline operators must conform to industry rules and regulations. These, he said, include the payment of applicable fees and fines as at when due.
However, the embattled international airline said it had paid N18.9 billion service charge to the FAAN from 2006 when it began operation till June 2015.
Managing Director of the airline, Chris Ndulue, who disclosed this at a press briefing in Lagos, refuted FAAN’s claim that Arik Air is owing the agency N12.5 billion, the alleged indebtedness workers in the aviation industry used as an excuse to shut down the airline’s operation on Wednesday.
At the briefing where top management team of the airline, including its Chairman, Sir Joseph Arumemi-Ikhide, was present, Ndulue, who expressed surprise at FAAN’s claim of indebtedness, showed a letter dated February this year from the agency to Arik where the regulator acknowledged that the airline had paid N11.4 billion.
The Arik boss, who alleged that the airline was being singled out for persecution, wondered why it had continued to be the only target of attack by FAAN even when other airlines were indebted to it.
He expressed the frustration of the airline that despite the embarrassment the shut down by the unions caused its firm and the loss of revenue, FAAN had refused to make any comment on the workers’ action, just as it had refused to pick calls or reply text messages from the airline.
He accused the agency of having no regard for the rule of law and the Judiciary where it had two years ago instituted a case against the airline over the same alleged case of indebtedness.
He also accused the agency of resulting to self-help even when the matter was pending in court, adding that if the regulator felt it no longer had confidence in the court to decide the matter, it ought to follow due process of discontinuing or withdrawing suits.
The firm’s chairman while expressing confidence in the Judiciary to resolve the matter, pledged the readiness of Arik Air to always pay for services rendered to it by all the regulators in the sector.
Workers in the aviation industry, under the umbrella of the National Union of Employees (NUATE) and Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSAN), had on Wednesday grounded operations at the Lagos headquarters of Arik Air over a N12.5 billion debt allegedly owed the FAAN.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of Arik Air, Sir Johnson Arumemi-Ikhide, has decried the regularity and impunity with which trade unions operating at the airports disrupt the airline’s operations under the guise of its indebtedness to their organisations, saying that such practices, if not stopped by the authorities, was capable of running down the industry.
He said: “Is it now the duty of the union to seek payment of money owed aviation agencies? The union has clearly gone beyond its mandate and we implore the minister to intervene”, Arumemi-Ikhide told the minister.
Arumemi-Ikhide described the airline as a responsible corporate company that is always ready to meet its obligations to its passengers and service providers and therefore does not deserve the shabby treatment by the unions as exemplified by the recent picketing of its offices and aircraft at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos.
He, therefore, expressed the hope that Sirika as a thoroughbred aviation professional would bring his wealth of experience to bear in resolving all the lingering issues, especially between airline operators and the industry regulators.
Sirika, while maintaining that the well-being of an airline is measured by its ability to pay for services rendered to it, said the goal of the present government is to develop an aviation industry that is founded on the principles of safety and security of not only the regulators and airline operators, but also passengers and their luggage, while also putting in place policies that would encourage the growth of domestic airlines.
He said: “While I will go beyond my limits to ensure that domestic airlines are encouraged to grow and promoted to compete favourably with their foreign counterparts, I will not subvert applicable rules and regulations in favour of any.”
The minister further said that aviation is the only industry that is internationally regulated and that Nigerian operators must conform to international best practices, saying that Arik Air and other key players need to be supported for wider international visibility.
Meanwhile the airline said it had resumed both domestic and international operations it suspended on Wednesday as a result of the shut down by the unions.
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