Lagos — One of Nigeria's leading airlines, Arik Air, yesterday suspended its domestic operations across the country alleging "persistent hostility of the Ministry of Aviation and Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) management."
Following the development, many passengers across Nigeria were said to have been stranded across the country, especially in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port-Harcourt where over 30 scheduled flights were cancelled.
Earlier reports yesterday had claimed that the airline's operations were shut by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, over an N18 billion debt the airline owes the aviation authority.
But Managing Director of the airline, Chris Ndulue said at a press conference that the airline suspended its operations voluntarily because of hostilities against the company.
He said issues that gave birth to protest by union members of federal Aviation parastatals can be attributed to personal vendetta and not because of the outstanding debt claims.
"Due to persistent hostility of the Ministry of Aviation and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), which has culminated in the use of FAAN staff to stop Arik Air operations and lock in checked-in passengers in Lagos this morning (Thursday), Arik Air has no option than to suspend all domestic operations until further notice.
"The issues border on personal interests and not payment of bills; since FAAN has been collecting their charges in advance since 18 months now. Arik Air regrets the inconveniences this disruption by FAAN would cause our guests," According to Ndulue, trouble started for Arik due to the airline's inability to meet the personal demands of certain influential person(s) in the industry. The Managing Director further said all the primordial attacks were aimed at grinding the airline which he said its steady rise in the aviation industry has been the envy of others.
"Before now, there have been several attempts and threats to disrupt our operations and sell the usual impression that Arik Air owes the agencies. After these attempts failed, they resorted to using some FAAN staff. They locked the boarding gate and prevented passengers from getting to the aircraft and were making false announcement of unimaginable sums of money they claimed Arik owed," Ndulue said.
The airline's Vice Chairman, Senator Anietie Okon, said the amount being bandied about by FAAN as Arik debt to it is fictitious and baseless. He noted that the airline was indebted to both FAAN and ministry of aviation to the tune of N1.6 billion before the commencement of "Pay-As-You-Go" (payment in advance)
Meanwhile management of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) said yesterday night that it was not aware of any plan by the unions to embark on the said industrial action as the management considers it to be counter-productive to the current efforts being made by management to recover debts owed FAAN by Arik Airlines and other customers.
In a statement by Akin Olukunle, FAAN's General Manager, Public Affairs, the authority assured the public that their safety and security remains a top priority at all airports, including the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.
"Earlier yesterday, Thursday September 20, 2012, it was brought to the attention of the management of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria that members of the industrial unions in the aviation industry carried out an industrial action, which entailed the disruption of Arik Airlines' flights, allegedly to recover debts owed by the airline to various agencies in the industry".
The statement reads in part: "The management wishes to inform the public that it was not aware of any plan by the unions to embark on the said industrial action as the management considers it to be counter-productive to the current efforts being made by management to recover debts owed FAAN by Arik Airlines and other customers.
"The management wishes to assure the public, particularly air passengers and all other airport users, that we are doing everything possible to address the issue that informed the industrial action by the unions without recourse to violence.