Why FirstNation Airways shut operations

FirstNation Airbus

FirstNation Airbus

After leaving much to speculations on why it disappeared from the radar, FirstNation Airways has explained why it temporarily shut operations, blaming the current harsh economic realities.

The airline, though denied distress and collapse, said its scheduled flight operations were due to resume September 15, 2016, barring any unforeseen circumstances.

Management of the airline said that its inability to source for Foreign Exchange (Forex) with the ever changing Central Bank of Nigeria policies and Rate of Exchange (ROE) made it difficult for the airline to carry out maintenance on its aircraft.

It would be recalled that the airline stopped operations on August 17.

Director of Flight Operations, Capt. Chimara Imediegwu, said that the development was not unconnected with maintenance issues, which was planned well ahead with notices sent to passengers.

Imediegwu recalled one of the two airplanes operated by the airline developed technical fault shortly after it returned from C-check overseas. When efforts to fix it failed, it had to await a team from the manufacturing company, only to be caught in the web of forex scarcity and policy inconsistency of the system.

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig.CARS) stipulates that no airline operator shall carry out schedule commercial operation with only one aircraft. The minimum acceptable number is three aircraft.

Imediegwu explained that the challenges of sourcing foreign exchange with constantly changing Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) policies and Rate of Exchange (ROE) left the airline in a situation where aircraft parts could not be obtained when ordered. This is due to banks’ inability to transfer funds based on bids and maintenance schedules with external Maintenance and Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities. In the process, providers suffer the repeated failures of the bidding system, leading to several delays that domestic airlines could hardly bear.

He added that the disruption caused by failed forex transfer is better imagined than experienced. To reduce such, he said, operators are sometimes compelled to source forex from the parallel market at cut-throat rate, even though the sum required are mostly in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The captain added that having contended with these challenges, the airline planned ahead and kept the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) informed of the progress of the maintenance of its aircraft.

According to him, “We actually had just received one of them from a heavy maintenance early this year while preparing for the departure of the next for maintenance, the former and rejuvenated ship developed a fault. This called for immediate action with the manufacturer’s specialists. We arrived at a decision to get them to come in and do a final job on it. The authority was constantly kept in the know, formally.

“In order to remain within the Safety Schedule and Service (SSS) boundary, effectively regulating ourselves, FirstNation voluntarily grounded these aircraft even though at enormous cost to us, to await the arrival of the manufacturer’s team.”

He, however, assured that the airline was working hard to restore services on or before Sept. 15.

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