‘Invisible’ hands plotting Aero Contractor’s collapse are within – Unions

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Ime Akpan

You are fair-weather friends – Airline reacts

The National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) have accused the management of Aero Contractors and Charles Johnson-Arumemi of allegedly doing hatchet jobs to run aground Nigeria’s oldest airline, Aero Contractors.

Addressing the media yesterday in Lagos, the general secretary of NUATE, Ocheme Aba and the deputy general secretary ATSSSAN, Frances Akinjole, the unions accused the airline’s management of allegedly orchestrating reports that paint the aircraft operating by the carrier as too old to fly.

“A recent report stated emphatically, albeit erroneously, that the airline has already gone under, impressing that its state of insolvency was irredeemable.

“The report quoted the airline’s CEO as saying that Aero’s aircraft have become too old to fly and are being grounded as such.

“He also alluded to the Airline’s heavily reduced fleet, as well as the debt overhang. The report painted an indeed sorry and forlorn state of the airline,” the unions said.

According to the unions, the management was economical with the truth.

“The CEO’s assertion that Aero’s planes are too old to fly are completely false, even if aided by internal misinformation. The fact as we know it is that Aero operates the B737 Classic generation, the oldest of which just clocked 30years.

“This class of aircraft is able to operate up to 85,000 cycles, or 100,000 flight hours as approved by the Manufacturer, Boeing. None of these aircraft in Aero’s fleet has operated up to half of the approved figures. We stand to be proved wrong.

“While it is true that older aircraft do have higher maintenance costs, it must be borne in mind that the Airline owns an approved maintenance and repair organisation (MRO) with elite Engineers in its fold.

“Till date, there is no report from the MRO, or the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) that any aircraft operated by Aero is too old to be maintained, or to fly, or that there exist any shortfalls in Aero’s maintenance culture.

On the contrary, Aero’s maintenance culture is rated among the very best. Therefore, this high flying lie of too old aircraft in Aero clearly bears ulterior motive,” they said.

The added: “The report in question failed to countenance the fact that Aero does have an MRO that maintains and carries out up to 1D Check on own and third party carriers. The MRO is currently on the threshold of becoming a major player in the industry.

“As a matter of fact, the Airline, Aero, just granted the MRO autonomy to operate as a quasi-subsidiary, being part of its unbundling plan.

“The MRO does have very bright prospects no doubt if properly managed and funded.”

The unions also alleged that the management had engineered the phony lease contract with House of 5A’s by which Aero was given only three seats in a 180-seater Airbus at a fixed price of N35, 000 per seat.

“Whereas the contract was for the purpose of expanding the airline’s network, the leased aircraft somehow supplanted all Aero aircraft on its juicy routes, pushing Aero aircraft to fringe routes with limited passenger intakes.

“For the period that the lease lasted, the entire Aero Contractors was essentially working for House of 5A’s, as the lessor was making more money than the airline itself.”

Furthermore, the unions questioned the rationale behind seconding Mr. Charles Johnson-Arumemi from Arik Air to Aero as commercial manager.

They alleged that Johnson-Arumemi draws N500, 000 monthly allowance from Aero while his salary is domiciled in Arik.

According to the unions, it was Johnson-Arumemi who drew up the schedule that granted Aero’s juicy routes to House of 5A’s.

“The same Mr. Johnson-Arumemi has overseen the bastardisation of the Aero online sales portal as to deliberately render it thoroughly defective.

“We observe that the sales portal would show seats not available when only about 30 passengers would have booked by then. This is in addition to exceedingly poor schedule with bad timings just to discourage prospective passengers.

“All these acts are clear cases of self-sabotage. This is as baffling as it is exasperating. Is Mr. Charles Johnson-Arumemi a face of the hidden forces working to kill Aero? Why is he working in Aero, but receiving salary from Arik?”

“We are at a loss why the staff, knowing the challenges airlines are facing in the current operating environment are always in a haste to compromise confidential information to the public and make it an issue of discussion.

“All the allegations about the Managing Director on House of 5A’s and Charles Arumemi-Johnson are unfounded. Charles is a very competent staff of Arik Air owned by AMCON, which equally owns Aero Contractors; therefore there is no conflict of interest. He is instrumental to the recently launched Aero portal which has given the site a face lift and made more user friendly compared to the previous website.

“On the House of 5A’s, every partnership was done with the aim of improving the revenues of the airline, particularly in relation to our unserviceable equipments and ensuring standard customer service. The question is what was our revenue before, during and after the exit of House of 5As? They should please respond.

“We are conscious of the challenges we are facing and have been prudent with our expenses, and doing our best to take care of staff welfare. We urge the staff and unions to desist from this attitude and support the company to overcome its challenges.

“The current management decided to create the four strategic business units (SBUs): MRO, Aviation Training Organisation (ATO), airline operation and rotary wing, to enhance efficiency and profitability.

“There’s no Nigerian carrier without debt overhang caused by the operating environment. And all major airlines in the world have had similar challenges, but took strategic measures to turn around the airlines. It is unfortunate that the airline industry operates on thin margins and airlines are always making efforts to be leaner and smarter to stay afloat.

“Whatever management decisions are taken are usually done with the engagement of the unions. It is at the instance of the unions the chief executive officer called for a town hall meeting last week. We believe that as the revenues begin to improve over the next few months, following strategic engagements with potential partners, the airline’s fortune will improve.

“We recognise the huge and massive potentials of Aero Contractors and are taking strategic steps to exploit them for the benefits of all stakeholders in these challenging times,” the airline said.

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