Hundreds of Arik Air passengers were on Wednesday stranded at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos following the grounding of its operations by aviation unions over alleged debts running to the tune N12.5 billion owed the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
Arik Air schedule flights for the day were disrupted by the unions under the aegis of the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and National Union of Pensioners (NUP).
Most of the passengers contacted decried the inability of the management of Arik Airline to brief them ahead of the situation saying that they only got to the airport and were confronted with such a situation thus making them stranded for the alleged indebtedness of the airline.
It was observed that security personnel from the Nigerian Police Force, Murtala Muhammed Airport Command prevailed on the protesting workers not to escalate the protest .
Speaking on the picketing of Arik Air, Vice Chairman, National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Comrade Idowu Adesola said that the picketing was all about the refusal of Arik Airline to pay its N12.5 billion debt owed to FAAN.
Comrade Adesola said Arik Airline would only be allowed to operate if the airline pays the sum of N7 billion with a promise that it would upset the remaining balance in a fixed date.
He said: “It is all about Arik Air and all other debtors owing FAAN at the detriment of FAAN because FAAN had to have its revenue coming in by making all the necessary things available for aviation stakeholders and if those provisions are made, they need to pay for what they are utilising.
“Now Arik Air is owing FAAN N12.5 billion, it was supposed to be N5.8 billion but they denied N3.4 billion on invoice rating. Now that it is N12.5 billion, they are not ready to pay and they are telling everybody that they are even bigger than the government, it is not just FAAN alone, they owe FAAN, NCAA and even NAMA and they owe some other people including their workers, they just paid their March salary recently which is not too good for somebody who has worked. So they believe that if Buhari is changing things, they are not ready to go along with Buhari to change things.
“We as workers we want to help Buhari to make changes for things to progress. In fact, I want to tell you that the bay out there, they (Arik Air) are not paying for it which is meant for National Carrier and presidency is not even looking into it, we are just talking about landing and parking charges as well as other facilities, if we are to talk of the bayn the money would have been more than that, they are not ready to do anything, they are flying free, they are landing free and they say if we come to them we will be crushed but God is with us and we will defeat and prevail over Arik Air.
“The negotiation is still on-going but if they can put down N7billion, we will allow them to operate with conditions that as soon are they going to pay up so that Buhari change and TSA matters can be put in place which will also help workers in FAAN.”
One of the passengers said that he was disappointed because he never knew he would be stranded at the airport.
The passenger who refused to have his name mentioned in print said that he was travelling to Port-Harcourt at 11:00am noting that nobody had told them while their operations were grounded.
He said: “No one has said a word, not even from the management of the airline or ticket officers. This has been their nature. At least, they should have sent a text last night so that we can be abreast of the situation. I had to buy another ticket from Medview Airline at N40,200 and for those who can not afford it, what do you expert them to do.”
Meanwhile responding to the unions picketing, PR & Communications Manager of Arik Air, Mr. Adebanji Ola said that the union workers blocked their operations at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT).
Mr. Ola said: “The action by the workers’ union is connected with the long-standing and unsubstantiated claim by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) of spurious indebtedness of the airline to the agency which is now before a Federal High Court in Lagos at the instance of FAAN.
“For several months, the management of Arik Air and FAAN have been meeting to reconcile payment accounts between the two institutions. The reconciliation process is still ongoing until the latest actions by the union.
“This is not the first time that FAAN workers’ union will be taking the laws into their hands by disrupting operations of Arik Air.
“The current situation is deeply out of control of Arik Air and the management of the airline has been compelled to suspend all domestic operations for today
“This will remain in force until such a time the unfortunate situation is resolved. Arik Air sincerely apologize for the inconveniences the FAAN workers’ union action may have caused its esteemed passengers. We live to serve the needs of the people of the great nation Nigeria.
“We look forward to working collaboratively with FAAN and other aviation agencies to resolve the impasse and return to our core purpose of providing essential world class services to the people of Nigeria.”