AON buckles, rescinds decision on proposed flight shutdown

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After displaying what Nigerians would describe as initial gra gra (IGG), Nigeria’s domestic carriers under the auspices of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) on Sunday suspended its proposed shutdown of flight operations nationwide as from Monday, May 9, 2022.

Recall that the AON had in a statement issued on Friday and signed by 10 airline operators threatened to withdraw flight services nationwide over high cost of aviation fuel.

The association said aviation fuel had increased astronomically over time while airlines continued to subsidise their services “to our highly esteemed Nigerian flying public in the last four months.”

“Overtime, aviation fuel price (JetA1) has risen from N190 per litre to N700 currently. No airline in the world can absorb this kind of sudden shock from such an astronomical rise over a short period. While aviation fuel worldwide is said to cost about 40 per cent of an airline’s operating cost globally, the present hike has shut up Nigeria’s operating cost to about 95 per cent,” AON said.

However, on Sunday, seven of the operators including the AON president Mr.  Abdulmunaf Sarina, signed a statement announcing the suspension of the action.

The others were Messrs Shehu Wada, executive director, Max Air; Obiora Okonkwo, chairman, United Nigeria Airlines; Roy Ilegbodu, CEO, Arik Air; Abdullahi Mahmood, CEO, Aero Contractors; Faisal Abdulmunaf, MD, Azman Air; and Allen Onyema, chairman, Air Peace.

Those who signed the suspension of flight services on Friday Messrs Abdulmunaf Sarina (AON president); Shehu Wada (ED, Max Air), Obiora Okonkwo (chairman, United Nigeria Airlines), Mfon Udom (CEO, Ibom Air), Roy Ilegbodu, (CEO, Arik Air); Abdullahi Mahmood, (CEO, Aero Contractors); Faisal Abdulmunaf, (MD, Azman Air); Capt. Edward Boyo, (CEO, Overland Airways); Sukh Mann, (deputy CEO, Dana Air); and Allen Onyema, (chairman, Air Peace).

The AON, on Sunday said in a statement that decision for suspending the proposed action was in response to “numerous calls from the highest echelons in government with promises to urgently intervene in the crises being faced by airlines due to the astronomic and continuously rising cost of JetA1.”

It said the “AON has acceded to requests to withdraw the action for the time being while we allow for a fresh round of dialogue with government in the hope of reaching an amicable solution.”

It also stated that “we have also reached this decision with the highest consideration for our esteemed customers who have been faced with uncertainty over the last few days and to enable them to have access to travel to their various destinations for the time being during the period of discussions with relevant authorities.

In view of the above and in the interest of national economy and security considerations, AON hereby wishes to notify the general public that the earlier announced shutdown of operations on May 9, 2022 is hereby suspended in good fate pending the outcome of hopefully fruitful engagement with government.”

However, NewsGazette gathered that the suspension of the planned strike by the airlines was informed by the crack in its rank following the pulling out of Ibom Air, Arik Air and Dana Air from the ‘agreement.’

Ibom Air was the first to break the AON decision when its management dissociated from the flight shutdown.

Although the CEO of Ibom Air, Capt Mfon Udom was a signatory to the AON decision, its management said in a release issued on Saturday that the airline  has financial obligations to suppliers, financiers and staff, which depend on uninterrupted flow of revenue to service.

“More importantly is the fact that having been paid by customers in advance for flight bookings we are bound by contract to deliver the services already paid for, to avoid exposing the airline to the risk of avoidable litigation,” the airline said.

In the circumstance, the management said its airlines “cannot in the circumstance volunteer to stop operating and will continue normal operations on Monday 09 May 2022 and beyond.”

It added: “Ibom Air is currently the only airline serving Akwa Ibom State directly and as such, any voluntary stoppage of operations would completely cut off access by air into and out of the state. Such action would be directly in conflict with and detrimental to the interest of our shareholder.

The carrier defended its inclusion as “signatory” to the statement released by the airlines’ association saying it “must have derived from its active and committed membership of the AON.”

Nevertheless, the carrier said it “acknowledges the existential threat that these runaway fuel price increases pose for the air transport industry in Nigeria.

“We agree that this out-of-control situation is simply unsustainable. However, every airline has its unique business model and pressures. We believe that in spite of the escalating fuel prices, airlines volunteering to stop operations would rather exacerbate an already bad situation.

“We identify very strongly with our AON colleagues and will participate in every effort to resolve this frightening situation as soon as possible in the interest of our business, our customers, our stakeholders and our country.

“We thank our customers for their continued patronage and we thank the AON for our collective efforts to secure a sustainable fuel pricing regime for the airlines,” the airline said.

Similarly on Sunday, the managements of Arik Air Limited (in receivership) and Aero Contractors (in receivership) said in a statement that “both airlines will be operating all their scheduled flights on Monday, May 9, 2022.

“Both managements fully identify with and endorse the efforts of the AON to bring about a conducive operating environment for Nigerian carriers as the current price of JET A1 is unsustainable and could result in the untimely demise of most airlines.

However, we have assurances that the government is looking at the issues raised by the AON and will come up with a decision that will be in the best interest of the industry and the traveling public.

Passengers who are booked to travel on both Arik Air Aero Contractors tomorrow and beyond should proceed to their airports of departure to board.”

For its part, Dana Air in a statement entitled ‘Dana air not suspending flights’  said “it has become necessary for us to take a stand in the overall interest of our guests, corporate partners, staff and the industry at large.

While Dana Air agrees with the AON on all the challenges facing domestic airlines in Nigeria and have on many occasions actively participated in the collective and ongoing engagement of relevant authorities on the urgent need to tackle the many issues domestic airlines have been grappling with which includes the skyrocketing cost of Jet A1, we have taken a decision not to join the suspension of flights on May 9, 2022.

“We acknowledge that the present cost of jet A1 is unsustainable and should not be passed to the flying public, we therefore call on the government to act urgently to resolve these unending operational challenges while Dana Air will continue to support every effort by the AON to achieve a quick and peaceful resolution in the interest of our dear country Nigeria.

“We appreciate and thank our customers once again for choosing to fly with us.”

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