The National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) has fingered the minister of aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika in the politics of non-issuance of air operator certificate to Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) to float NG Eagle Airline.
General secretary of the union, Mr. Aba Ocheme who stated this at a press conference held in Lagos on Wednesday, alleged that the minister was afraid that setting up the new carrier would put paid to the one he has been trying to establish in the last six years without much success.
Recall that AMCON is the receiver manager of Arik Air. The establishment of NG Eagle has raised dust because of the fear that Arik Air was being transformed into NG Eagle so as to escape its heavy indebtedness to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and other aviation agencies.
There are also insinuations that AMCON was using the airline’s staff and assets to start the new airline.
Ocheme who was reacting to the controversy surrounding the non-issuance of AOC to AMCON, put Arik’s total debts at N300 billion “whereas the airline’s assets are worth only about half of its total debts.
“What this means is that Arik Air is unable to pay its debts. And it cannot under any circumstances. This is a solid fact that cannot be altered by the denial of AOC to NG Eagle,” he said.
Ocheme said non-issuance of AOC to AMCON was beyond Arik’s huge indebtedness stressing that “the real issue is the politics of a new national carrier.”
He said there was palpable fear that AMCON had positioned its new airline, NG Eagle, to metamorphose into a national carrier, whereas the minister has been labouring for the past six years to create one which he named Nigeria Eagle (Air).
“Information available to NUATE however, suggests that the issue of indebtedness of Arik Air to FAAN and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is only a smokescreen.
“It is understood that the real issue is the politics of a new national carrier.
“Indications are that there is the fear on the side of the minister of aviation that AMCON has positioned its new airline, NG Eagle, to metamorphose into a national carrier, whereas the honourable minister has been labouring for the past six years to create one which he has named Nigeria Eagle (Air).
As AMCON and the ministry are both agencies of the federal government, there is clearly no possibility of the two airlines operating side by side as national carriers.
“The fear is that if NG Eagle succeeds, then the Nigeria Eagle (Air) project would be jettisoned. That means one of the airlines must budge. This, we understand, is the crux of the matter,” he said.
Ocheme further said those proposing that AMCON’s NG Eagle’s AOC should be on hold until Arik Air’s debts are settled are only pushing AMCON to liquidate the airline.
“…Arik Air is unable to pay its debts. And it cannot under any circumstances. This is a solid fact that cannot be altered by the denial of AOC to NG Eagle.
“Considering the airline’s low worth compared to its huge debts, liquidation will bring about a chaotic end to Arik Air by which all parties will be losers. This should be avoided by all means,” Aba said.
He said in the event of a “chaotic end to Arik Air by way of liquidation” the workers would be among the “greatest losers” as evident in the “untold hardship that befell ex-workers of the defunct Nigeria Airways after the Airline was unceremoniously liquidated by the Obasanjo regime in 2004.”
He added: “It took an intervening period of twenty years and spanned four governments – the governments of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari – before the hapless workers began to get some reprieve in terms of their terminal benefits. No one should be so wicked as to wish similar experience for Arik workers.”
He urged the presidency to intervene and “grant AMCON the space to continue to protect the employment of over two thousand employees.”
“In the same way, denial of AOC to NG Eagle will shut out 20, 000 potential jobs for Nigerians, together with the opportunity for reasonable number of Arik staff to migrate to the new Airline. This would be very unfortunate indeed. The pleaded intervention by the presidency will avert such a catastrophe,” he added.