Mass sack looms in aviation sector as woes deepen

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  • Airlines can’t pay for aircraft maintenance – NUATE

At a time the Federal Government claims to have spent about N17.6 billion to renovate major airports across the country, there are indications that the once vibrant sector may plunge into a deep crisis soon.

Uba Group

The sector, according to stakeholders in the aviation industry, is currently grappling with several problems, ranging from poor management and drying funds to depleting quality of services, and victimisation of employees, among others.

PASSENGERS LAMENT

Air passengers have continued to complain about the poor quality of services rendered by some of the airline operators, including the new entrants.

For instance, Tobiloba Oresegun, an engineer, who went online to purchase an Aero Contractors flight ticket for a trip from Lagos to Abuja, scheduled for January 18, had thought that booking his flight a week in advance on the airline’s portal was not only pocket friendly, but that it was also a way of securing a seat, especially given the dearth of domestic airlines.

But he arrived the Murtala Muhammed Airport 2, MMA2, terminal only to discover that the staff of Aero Contractors had embarked on a protest, paralysing the airline’s flight operations. In order not to miss his appointment in Abuja, he purchased another ticket from Arik Air and left.

However, another passenger, Owoyemi Lawal, who booked an Air Peace flight, was not that lucky. By the time he arrived at the airport, the few available airlines – First Nation, Dana Air and Arik Air were fully booked.

“I had to cancel my appointment that day and that was because I had the power to do that. It is a mystery that a new company can join the league of airlines that disregard or care less about their patrons. I think the sector needs a total overhaul immediately,” he said.

MANAGEMENT STAFF ARE CORRUPT – NUATE

The National Union of Air Transport Employees, the apex trade union arm in the sector, attributes the dwindling fortunes of the sector to fraud and lack of corporate governance on the part of the management of the airlines.

Though the Acting General Secretary, NUATE, Olayinka Abioye, agreed that the sector was safe from any plane crash, he nonetheless insisted that some airline operators were corrupt and that the first on his list was Aero, followed by Arik, Medview and First Nation, among others.

In the case of Aero Contractors, the spokesperson of NUATE alleged that the management paid a sum of N30 million to one Chief Mika from Rivers State every quarter and that this was affecting the operations of the company in Nigeria.

“It is so bad that four out of seven planes of the airline that were flown abroad for ‘D Check’ maintenance have not returned because the company cannot afford to pay for the repairs and it is not that it is not making money,” he told The Point.

Abioye added that the management structure of the airline contradicted the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority law that all staff must be properly remunerated.

“There are situations where some supervisors earn more than managers in the airline while some workers that are due for promotion have not been promoted for seven years. After several efforts to engage the management in a dialogue, some of the workers, who are our members, have been victimised and frustrated out of the organisation,” he said.

Abioye described the case of Arik Airline, which had the largest fleet of aircraft in Nigeria, as the most pathetic. Aside from owing staff, including pilots about three months’ salaries, the Comrade alleged that the management deducted tax and pension fund from its workers and failed to remit them to appropriate agencies.

“We have sent a warning letter to Arik that if half of the outstanding salaries is not paid by the middle of February, we would not hesitate to embark on an indefinite strike. We have written several letters to the government for its intervention in the irresponsible behaviour and we are still waiting for its response,” he added.

Arik and Aero Contractors are not the only airlines that have scores to settle with the union. There are allegations of victimisation of workers, lack of welfare packages and casualisation levied against the management of Medview, Air Peace and First Nation airlines by the union.

“CBN"

Meanwhile, the management of the National Handling Company is also on the edge over allegations of selective promotion and victimisation of some union leaders.

The major handling company has not reviewed its condition of service in the last 15 years and this, according to industry watchers, contradicts the NCAA law.

“Some staff, who lost parts of their bodies in some occupational hazards were poorly compensated. The management has also served about 500 workers dismissal letters with effect from March 2015 and most of them are union leaders,” a source in the NAHCO’s union chapel told The Point.

POOR RATINGS IN 2015

The recent ratings conducted by Guide to Sleeping in Airports, a travel website, confirmed that the aviation sector in Nigeria was comatose. Despite the huge funds spent on the airport, the travel firm revealed that Port Harcourt International Airport, Rivers State, which was among the renovated airports, was the worst airport in 2015.

It linked its ratings to the poor customer service, lack of comfort and poor infrastructure in the facility. However, while the Port Harcourt airport tops the chart in the world, it also maintains same position in Africa with its counterparts in Abuja and Lagos; Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport and Murtala Muhammed International Airport, respectively.

Similarly, the statistics of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority also confirmed poor services with regard to Arik Air and Aero Contractors. The agency revealed that the airlines recorded the highest number of both delayed and cancelled flights in 2014 and 2015.

Out of a total of 22, 347 flights, Arik delayed 10, 484 flights and cancelled 5,224 trips. Aero Contractors followed Arik closely. Out of 15,376 flights, the airline delayed 8, 554 and cancelled 4,790 flights last year with 22 air returns. Air Peace is next with a total of 3, 129 delays and 1, 207 cancellations, out of 7, 042 flights last year.

Though experts have said that some delays and cancellations may be inevitable for safety reasons, they also allege that many of the cases involving Arik Air and Aero Contractors are due to negligence.

RUNWAYS NOT SAFE

Findings further revealed that about 55 per cent of major accidents in the aviation industry since 2011 took place on the runway of airports across the country.

Also, statistics released by the NCAA disclosed that no fewer than 27 air incidents and accidents were recorded in the country during the period under review.

Director, Operations, NCAA, Capt. Abdullahi Sidi, who represented the Director-General of the agency, Capt. Muktar Usman, at a recent stakeholders’ briefing, agreed that there was a need for all the aviation agencies to collaborate, so as to enhance safety in all ramifications of the sector. He frowned at the rating of Africa as the continent with the highest number of accidents in the world.

“If incursions, excursion and confusion on the runways are reduced, it will also reduce the accident rates in Africa. There is a need to improve

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