Troubled airline, Arik Air, has been gambling with the lives of its passengers through illegal practices, SaharaReporters has been informed. Sources within the aviation industry disclosed that the airline commits a variety of illegalities by encouraging its pilots to ignore regulations.
According to the sources, the airline pays pilots $200 to exceed the maximum number of landings permissible by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.
The maximum number of landings approved by NCAA is seven, but Arik forces its pilots to make eight and pays $200 to have their duty time extended to 20 hours.
Some of its pilots, disclosed aviation sources, have been found drunk on duty.
In June, Arik Safety Manager, Captain Jide Bakare, said a source, was pulled aside on a flight to London to be tested for alcohol. He was said to have been tested by one Dr. Tunji of Kupa Hospital, Ajao Estate, Lagos. The test returned a positive result.
Captain Bakare, added the source, had to be replaced on the flight by an Indian pilot and no action was taken against him because he is married to the sister of the airline’s Deputy Managing Director.
“He was simply told to go for rehabilitation and remains the Safety Manager,” confided the source.
Not every pilot gets that type of treatment, disclosed another source. The source explained that when some Arik Airbus pilots had an incident, it was Captain Bakare, who headed the panel that investigated the circumstances of the mishap, which was shielded from the NCAA.
Another illegality committed by the airline relates to the Tech Log. Legally, only approved engineers can clear the Tech Log, not pilots. But when Lufthansa engineers went on strike because they were not paid, SaharaReporters learnt, Arik illegally forced pilots to sign off the Tech log so that planes could fly.
Even when crew members are not eligible to fly, the airline forces them to fly, thereby breaking flight time limits. When some crew challenged this, the Chairman was said to have barred them from international flights for two years.
Forcing crew to fly above their limits is an invitation to fatigue and accidents.
The source added that there are other torrid, less than dignifying conditions imposed by the Chairman, Mr. Johnson Arumemi-Ikhide. The Chairman is said to have barred Nigerian pilots from flying and has had them largely reduced to cleaning aircraft in the fleet.
The staff of the airline at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) in Lagos, explained a source, have not been promoted in eight years. They are in dread of the Chairman, whose presence is said to induce heavy panic among staff.
He also said to prefer hiring incompetent family members, who make the job difficult for knowledgeable staff. Pensions and taxes of the airline's staff, SaharaReporters learned, are similarly not remitted. Staff benefits are ignored. According to a source, the staff are entitled to flight tickets at a discounted price of N150,000, but such are given out as gifts to the friends of the top guns at the airline.
A staff in the catering department said Arik takes meals to serve in New York in cargo hold from Lagos because of huge debts owed food vendors in New York. The meals, she said, are usually rancid after the long flight, but are still served to passengers.
Passengers are said to regularly complain of food poisoning. Last month, no food was served to passengers on a flight from London because the airline owes a catering company in London.
The cabin crew also rations served flights and when the run out water, they get from the toilet to give passengers.
At the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos, staff are told to make money at all costs and are often ordered to close the check-in counter before the approved time. This way, passengers are prevented from checking in, so they could come another day to pay for no-show and ticket change.
“We want the NCAA, Nigerian Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate the activities of Arik and its many unsafe practices,” said a staff.
A profiler in the Arik Security Department at the MMIA equally disclosed that the airline illegally takes many heavily pregnant women to the UK to use the country’s National Health Scheme (NHS) illegally. Early this month, a report in the Daily Mail identified expectant mothers from Nigeria as constituting a huge number of women cheating the UK NHS, a development that is now making the authorities consider a presentation of identification by pregnant women before using the NHS.
The airline’s ticket sales staff are also forced to keep selling tickets even when flights are full, thereby causing chaos during boarding, with passengers scrambling to get in.
At the Information Technology Department, disclosed staff, the servers are always down because no payment is made.
“For many days, Arik server will be down due to non payment to service providers. Same thing with the company’s phone lines,” said one source.
He added that the airline’s operations are regularly affected by aviation fuel shortage because it finds it difficult paying for fuel. The frequent fuel shortages, in official spiel, are dressed up as “operational reasons”.