Despite the claim by the management of Ethiopian Airlines that it is in talks with the Nigerian government on taking over the troubled Nigerian carrier, Arik Air, the receiver of the airline, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), has denied the report.
AMCON, through a statement by Jude Nwauzor, Head of Corporate Communications, said on Monday that it was not aware of any discussion with the East African carrier, insisting that if there were any such discussion, AMCON would be the first to know.
Ethiopian Airlines last week told CNN that it had submitted a formal offer to take charge of Arik Air, which accounts for more than half of Nigeria’s air passenger traffic.
“We have outlined our terms and conditions to the Nigerian government and we are waiting to see if they agree,” Esayas Woldemariam, the airline’s managing director of international services, told CNN. “We are capable and desirous of handling the airline.”
Mr. Woldemariam did not, however, specify details of the offer, but added that he expected to face competition for Arik Air from international airlines.
Arik Air was taken over by AMCON following its inability to repay a debt exceeding N350 billion to AMCON and other creditors.
AMCON said at the time that it had to step in to save the airline from failure. It removed the management and replaced it with a new team and receiver manager to oversee the operations of the airline.
Arik’s AMCON-appointed Managing Director, Roy Ilegbodu, reported in August that the company had stabilized under AMCON’s watch, with services running smoothly and workers’ salaries paid on time.
It now carries an average of 4,000 passengers daily and has the largest fleet in Nigeria with 14 aircraft, although according to Mr. Ilegbodu, only 10 are operational.
“Our attention has been drawn to a barrage of media reports which claimed that there are discussions going on with Ethiopian Airlines for the carrier to render management services to Arik. Contrary to these reports, the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) is not aware of any current discussion or negotiation with the management of Ethiopian Airlines regarding Arik Air Limited (Arik),” Jude Nwauzor said.
Mr. Nwauzor explained that since the new managers took over the running of the airline, it has been marked by stability of schedules, improved On-Time-Performance (OTP) and revamped customer service, among other improvements..
He claimed that the airline has now regained its dominance as the most reliable carrier in the country with growing passenger patronage and confidence.
“The general public and all stakeholders will be kept duly informed on issues relating to the airline's divestment plan,” he said.
Sources close to the airline today alleged that some interest groups in the federal government had planned to take over the airline and sell it cheaply to themselves and their cronies before the takeover by AMCON.
The source further purported that 8 out of the 10 aircraft in Arik’s fleet are due for heavy maintenance, but AMCON lacked the financial wherewithal to take them out for the required maintenance.
The source claimed that the interest groups took advantage of the financial distress of the airline occasioned by the crash of Nigeria’s economy and its currency, the naira, to attempt to forcefully take over the carrier.
“The stakeholders are gearing for a rebirth of the airline. Eight aircraft are ripe for heavy checks. They are there parked and wasting away. They have degraded the maintenance culture of the company because we take the aircraft to European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) rated maintenance facility, but we heard they now take them to a Lithuanian facility where the maintenance cost is cheap but even there, they cannot even pay for the aircraft they have taken out.
“Nigeria is always too willing to cut deals with foreign airlines and give our market away. Our country is losing so much for the selfish interest of a few,” he said.