Nigeria: Sirika - Air Passengers Entitled to Refunds On Delayed Flights

9 July 2021

*Technical hitch forces Azman Air to make air return

Deji Elumoye in Abuja and Chinedu Eze in Lagos

Aviation Minister, Senator Hadi Sirika, has disclosed that local air passengers in Nigeria who suffer flight delays at the airport for two hours or more are entitled to a refund of their full ticket value from the airline.

This is coming as Azman Air flight from Lagos to Maiduguri en-route Abuja was yesterday forced to make air return when the aircraft landing gear refused to retract after take-off.

Sirika has also vowed to ensure the recovery of over N37 billion owed aviation parastatals by some airlines and other critical stakeholders in the country while stressing that the aviation ministry in the last six years has released 67 air accident reports which is unprecedented in the nation's aviation history.

Sirika, who featured yesterday in the weekly ministerial press briefing organised by the Presidential Communication Team at the State House, Abuja, stated that infringements to the rights of travellers, both local and international, have laid down rules and guidelines that spell rights and punishments out, just as there are punishments for travellers' violation of good behaviour.

According to him, there are channels of laying complaints at the airports, which would see to it that customer rights and privileges are protected but noted that most travellers fail to take advantage of the provisions because they fail to pay attention to instructions and information hanging around airports.

"On domestic flights, delay beyond one hour; carrier shall provide refreshment, make one phone call or one SMS or email. They should send you an SMS or call you to say 'I'm sorry you are delayed for one hour. They should also give you water or Fanta. Delay for two hours and beyond, the carrier shall reimburse passengers the full value of the tickets. The delay between 10 pm to 4 am, the carrier shall provide hotel accommodation, refreshment, meal, two free calls, SMS, email and transport to and from the airport and international, it also says all of the requirements".

The minister said he will ensure the recovery of over N37 billion owed aviation parastatals by some airlines and other critical stakeholders in the country and listed the aviation parastatals being owed to include Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

"Bi-Courtney is owing FAAN N14 billion as at the last count. The operator has not paid a single dime since the time he started to run the terminal building and we have not ceased giving him electricity, water, fire cover, and so on and so forth. He hasn't paid a dime for 13 years."

The minister while commenting on the controversy surrounding the disbursement of the N5 billion COVID-19 palliative approved in 2020 to aviation stakeholders, said the point was made that airlines owing aviation parastatals should not benefit but the suggestion was turned down.

On how the government will resolve the issue with Bi-Courtney, the minister expressed optimism saying: "We're resolving it and we're talking with Bi-Courtney, we will ensure that we recover people's money and also recover the property and put it to use in accordance with the law of the land."

He attributed the frequent collapse of airlines in the country to poor management capacity, adding that the federal government has therefore decided to establish an Aviation University for the development of all-round capacity in the sector.

He also disclosed that the ministry has released a total of 67 final aviation accident reports covering the period of 2007 to 2016 in government's bid to ensure that the causes of previous airline accidents are known.

On the proposed new national carrier, the minister said his ministry will present the re-worked Outline Business Case (OBC) to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in the next one or two weeks for approval.

According to him, the plan for the airline is on course, as the government recently launched the airline logo in the United Kingdom for the sake of exposure.

Speaking on the update as regards air travels between Nigeria and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Sirika said there is no timeline for opening up of travels yet, noting that Nigeria feels Dubia was being "discriminatory against our country and it is not acceptable."

Bi-Courtney Denies Owing FAAN

Meanwhile, Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL), operator of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos Terminal Two (MMA2) in a swift response by its Spokesman, Mr. Mikail Mumuni has denied owing the FAAN any amount at all.

In a statement issued last night, Mumuni said it is FAAN that owes Bi-Courtney over N200 billion by depriving it of its legitimate earnings over the past 14 years.

This, he said arose by FAAN opening and operating the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), thus competing with BASL with government money in the running of the Domestic Terminal in a flagrant breach of the concession agreement.

"BASL in line with the dispute resolution process contained in the agreement had an arbitration award in its favour. It also got the judgment of a High Court, six Court of Appeal judgments, and a Supreme Court judgment, all in its favour and sustained the monetary award," he said.

Mumuni stressed that the courts ruled that any debt that may be alleged against BASL by FAAN should be deducted from the credit judgment after due verification.

He added that "the N14 billion debt mentioned by the aviation minister is totally inconsistent with the demand by FAAN, the body which has been liaising with BASL. Their last demand was about N1billion, which was promptly responded to by BASL stating categorically that there was no such debt."

Mumuni argued that the minister was not properly briefed by FAAN as the company also pay its electricity bills and provides elaborate security at the terminal.

Technical Hitch Forces Azman Air to Make Air Return

Meanwhile, Azman Air flight from Lagos to Maiduguri en-route Abuja was yesterday forced to make air return when the aircraft landing gear refused to retract after take-off.

THISDAY learnt that the pilot explained to passengers that the gear pin was not removed before the aircraft took off to enable the landing gear to retract so he had to return to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos so that the pin would be removed.

The 10:30 flight, which took off promptly returned to base after 10 minutes and was recertified to take-off again three hours later after the gear pin was removed.

But some of the passengers who were petrified by the incident decided to suspend their trip.

Eyewitness told THISDAY, "Azman Air to Maiduguri en-route Abuja made an air return to Lagos 10 minutes into the flight. The pilot explained that the nose gear did not return. Upon landing in Lagos, the engineer was called in. The pilot explained that a pin was not removed, causing the nose gear not to retract. He said the issue had, however, been resolved. But some passengers felt psychologically unable to continue with the flight and insisted on disembarking."

A pilot type-rated on Boeing 737, the aircraft type operated by Azman Air, explained to THISDAY that what happened was that when the aircraft is on ground the gear pin is inserted on the landing gear, also known as nose wheel, so that it would not collapse but this is done most often when the aircraft is on over night parking; not when it is on a turnaround.

He said that it was due to negligence that the engineer who certified the aircraft for flight and the pilot who ought to carry out a final inspection before operating the aircraft, did not notice that the gear pin was not removed.

He also explained that there is usually a red flag placed on the aircraft to indicate that the gear pin has not been removed but this seemed to have been ignored by the pilot who took off without removing the pin.

"The maintenance personnel should have removed the pin. The pilot in command of the flight should have checked the red flag. The pilot ought to have seen it. I think this is a problem with the airline. This is an underlying safety issue with the airline's maintenance.

"Accident, you know, is a chain reaction, which follows series of incidents. And this is happening after the airline came back from suspension. So, there is a systemic problem with the airline," the pilot told THISDAY.

The General Manager, Public Affairs, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Mr. Sam Adurogboye confirmed the incident to THISDAY but said that he would not speak on it because it was air return but assured that the regulatory authority would investigate the incident.

"We always investigate incidents but we don't speak to the media about air return but we carry out investigation on any incident in order to be on the side of caution and safety," he said.

In March this year NCAA had temporarily suspended Azman Air due to series of incidents that regulatory authority said threatened safety.

But following the execution of safety recommendations by the airline, the satisfied regulatory authority lifted the suspension of the domestic carrier.

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