Azman Air: Privileged airline with powerful connections

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On August 30, the director general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu made a startling revelation that airlines’ debts to the agency stood at N19 billion and $7.8 million from accumulation of the statutory 5 per cent ticket sales charge and cargo sales charge (TSC/CSC) respectively.

To collect its money, the agency signed MoU with all the operators.

“We know they can’t pay all at a time, but they have to pay us a REASONABLE amount of money on a monthly basis, at least. I think almost all the airlines are complying with this, except a few…” Nuhu said.

He made it clear that he will not renew the AOC for any airline that failed to produce an acceptable debt payment plan.

On Thursday, September 15, 2022, Nuhu was upbeat as he announced the withdrawal of air transport licence (ATL) of Azman Air for serious infractions including the refusal to renew the certificate.    

He also said the airline had refused to produce a plan to offset its backlog debts totaling N1.2 billion.

The agency explained that the airline was not serious about paying off the debt as it offered to remit N10 million monthly.

NCAA rejected the offer, noting that it would take the airline some 12 years to pay up should it (NCAA) agree to such a ridiculous debt settlement plan.

It insisted on a N50 million monthly payment while the airline offered to service the debt with N20 million. The airline was unyielding following which NCAA withdrew the ATL until it (airline) toed the path of honour.

While the NCAA gleefully announced the suspension to journalists in a telephone conversation around 4pm, Azman Air was in the background boasting “I’ll be back” like Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘The Terminator’ movie.

Truly, around 7am the next day, NCAA issued a statement stating that it had reinstated the airline’s ATL “consequent upon the fulfillment of ALL outstanding requirements.”

And the carrier announced, like in the rested ‘Patitos’ Gang’ television talk show, “we are back”. And it was back, flying.

The news set tongues wagging. It was gathered that even while the ‘suspension’ lasted, the airline did not cease to operate.

Why was the airline so audacious? Why did it act with impunity for over two years in respect of its debt to the agency but suddenly in less than 24 hours after its ATL was suspended the airline settled “ALL the outstanding requirements?”

All that the airline needed to do was pull the right string and NCAA reversed itself. That is Nigeria.

NCAA has had to contend with impunity which has become the character of any operator who uses connections in high places to escape any form of sanction.

It is supposed to be an autonomous and a strong regulatory agency but more often than not it is hamstrung; it cannot assert itself and stand its ground due to interference, especially when the issue has to do with an operator who has any form of proximity to power.

It has to be stated that aviation is not like any other type of business in which one uses their closeness to people who matter to reverse a reprimand for bad conduct. When this happens, as it believed to have been in the case of Azman, safety becomes the first casualty.

Which “ALL outstanding requirements” did the airline fulfill in less than 24 hours after it was axed? Did it agree to pay N50 million monthly to offset its debt or NCAA was ordered from “above” to rescind its stand on the “beloved” carrier? These and many more questions are issues NCAA has to address for it cannot operate with different set of rules.

The airline has a penchant for resorting to tactical maneuvring and blackmail whenever it runs afoul of the law.

In 2021, its operations were grounded following three separate incidents in six weeks involving its Boeing 737-500 aircraft.

The first incident occurred on February 11, 2021 when a No 3 main landing gear heat shield fell off the aircraft during takeoff at the Kaduna en route Lagos.

According to NCAA, the “air traffic controller (ATC) notified the captain who elected to continue the flight to Lagos.”

Upon arrival in Lagos, the captain acted with impunity by not making entry in the aircraft technical logbook.

NCAA further said: “Azman Air maintenance team on ground in Lagos were notified of the detached part….However, the maintenance team neither made an entry in the technical logbook nor rectified the defect but released the aircraft for a scheduled passenger flight from Lagos to Abuja.

The other incidents were those of February 16, 2021 when the aircraft had burst tyre while landing in Lagos, with resultant severe damage to its engine and fuselage and March 15, 2021 when the Boeing aircraft had burst tyres after landing at the Lagos Airport and taxiing to its parking stand.

The agency reasoned that the alarming trends of tyre failures, in combination with improper tyre maintenance procedures, are a clear and strong indication of an accident chain formation in its final stages.

It said there was “an urgent need to break the accident chain before a completely avoidable national tragedy occurs,” stressing that “no responsible civil aviation authority will fold its arms and wait for the next incident to occur, perhaps a fatal accident, before taking action.”

Instead of addressing the issue, the airline resorted to arm twisting by alleging that the director general of NCAA demanded for N15 million bribe for a publication which carried the airline’s advertisement.

Later, it issued a half-hearted apology to the director general, blaming the allegation on an “overzealous staff” who, according to it, pushed out the “unfortunate allegations…without the knowledge and consent of management of Azman!”

And that was the end of the matter.

Before the recent ‘suspension’ passengers always complained about the airline. They talked about what one of them described as the airlines ‘winged molue smoking like bolekaja’ its closed system which makes feedback difficult, if not impossible; arrogant staff and down time departure time, among others.

We do not wish a requiem mass to be conducted for any airline but Azman Air has to put its house in order, be a responsible corporate entity by adhering to the dictates of the sector it operates. Safety is not in the syllabus of aero politics.

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