AMCON, Arik and an urgent public need – By Lekan Fatodu

To many close observers, particularly the travelling public, the news of Arik Air, Nigeria’s biggest airline, being taken over by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) over the reported huge indebtedness of the airline wouldn’t come as a surprise.

For the past few months, the wholly Nigerian airline has been in the news more for problematic reasons than records of any major accomplishment.

The airline’s challenge took an ugly turn in January when passengers on both its local and international routes reeled out in anguish about being stranded at various airports. Others who were lucky to fly out of the airports later discovered, on getting to their destinations, that their luggage didn’t arrive with them.

Things actually got so messy that at a stage some passengers, out of frustration, almost lynched a manager of the airline at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos. Yes, it was really that bad.

Obviously the adverse effects of the airline’s ineptitude on the socio-economic activities of passengers most of whom operate in different sectors of the Nigerian economy presently gasping for breath in the midst of a nasty recession has proven to be enough to make many people go gaga.

Sadly though, the management of the airline itself did practically nothing to tackle the real issue afflicting its services in a manner that will deepen public understanding, engender necessary solution and prevent such debacle that played out from repeating itself.

And this, amongst other now failures of the airline that are now public knowledge, has unsurprisingly resulted in the intervention of AMCON to rescue the airline from the sea of troubles threatening to drown it.

Following is what AMCON had to say after taking over at the airline.

“The Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON, has discovered deep rooted rot at Arik Airlines, which would require over N10 billion to fix before the largest local carrier would resume full and uninterrupted flight operations to its regular routes across the country and beyond.

“The situation is so bad that only nine aircraft out of the 30 in the fleet of the airline is operational. 21 of them have either been grounded, gone for C-check in Europe among other forms of challenges.

‘’As if these problems are not enough, the airline does not have money to procure aviation fuel for the nine operational aircraft because no dealer wants to sell aviation fuel to Arik if it is not on cash-and-carry basis.

‘’This also calls for public understanding because flight schedules may be realigned based on the nine aircraft that are available, technically sound and ready for flight operation.

“It was also discovered that Arik also owes its technical partners and also in perpetual default in its lease payments and insurance premium, leading to regular and embarrassing squabbles with different business partners, which account for why 21 aircraft are off the fleet for different reasons.

“All these problems, in addition to huge staff salaries, which have remained unpaid for 11 months; vendors that supply different items to Arik Airlines that are also owed, meant that Nigerians may have to tarry awhile to allow the new management clean up the huge mess at the airline before Arik would finally resume uninterrupted flight.”

Expectedly, the dissolved management of Arik hit back at AMCON dismissing most of the claims made by the government agency. According to it, AMCON’s excuses for the takeover were well crafted decoy made to enable the easy conversion of the private airline to a national carrier.

Indeed, the present government has mooted the idea of running a national carrier as a way of advancing the economy by harnessing and maximising the massive benefits in the country’s aviation sector.

But the way the Nigerian Airways, the rested national airline, and many other monumental and profitable public assets were run aground, has cast doubt in the minds of many on the government’s ability to operate profitably a new national airline or any business enterprise for that matter.

However, the assessment of the efforts of AMCON now that the government agency is on the wings of Arik should be the major test of the workability of the national carrier proposition.

Actually, before any other thing, the main focus of the new AMCON team at Arik should be to make a fast move in resolving all the issues that have hindered the airline from reaching its true potentials.

It is really disheartening seeing that an airline that enjoys between 55-60 per cent share of the air transport market in Nigeria is faced with challenges that are in the real sense a no-brainer, especially when most of the other airlines that constitute the remaining 40 – 45 market share are not better off.

The Nigerian government and air travellers who use the aviation line for various businesses and engagements need reliable, efficient and safe air services to support in building a virile economy.

Countries that are deemed prosperous attain their glorious heights by ensuring sound and excellent operations in all critical areas of the economy amongst which the aviation sector is accorded a worthy attention.

The situation of Arik is a peculiar one given its position amongst others and the condition of its workforce which is said to be over 1,800 people, many of whom were being owed salary arrears of four to six months at the time of the takeover. That is why the new AMCON team should direct their energy and expertise towards the urgent need to deliver a truly dependable Arik that will meet the expectations of the majority of Nigerian air travellers.

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