Arik, Nigeria’s biggest airline suspends operations
Passengers stranded, management says disruption temporary
Nigeria’s largest domestic carrier, Arik Air, shut its operations yesterday.The airline, responsible for over 40 per cent of domestic passenger traffic nationwide, blamed the “temporary” disruption on its inability to secure insurance renewal.
The development left many passengers across the country and in West Africa stranded. Also affected are the airline’s long-haul operations to Heathrow Airport in London, and New York in the United States.Arik is the third, after Aero Contractors and FirstNation to “temporarily” ground operations in the last four weeks.
Many hopeful passengers who had turned up at the Lagos airport, as early as 6:15 a.m., yesterday, were perplexed, when for several hours, there were no Arik officials in sight or word on what had been going on.
“I arrived at this terminal minutes before 7:00 a.m., for an 8:00 a.m. flight to Abuja. They told us that there was delay, due to fuel shortage. And we believed them, since that has been the case in the last couple of weeks. I always saw them (Arik) as the most reliable. I was so shocked to hear that all flights have been cancelled at 2:00 p.m. It is very unfortunate,” said Saheed, a passenger at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.
The airline had lately been embroiled in debt. It was learnt that huge bills owed suppliers of aviation fuel were partially responsible for its current predicament.
A source close to the marketers described the airline, responsible for about 120 daily flight operations nationwide, as a bad debtor. He said Arik owed at least N3 billion, a situation, which forced a cutoff of Jet A1 supplies to the company.
Weeks ago, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) grounded Arik’s Lagos-Abuja operations, to force negotiations on an N8 billion debt payment plan.Last April, also, a coalition of aviation workers grounded operations, protesting a N12.4 billion debt owed regulatory agencies.
The Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) recently disclosed that Arik was one of the airlines the Federal Government had been supporting with a N200 billion intervention fund, given its importance to the economy.
In a statement, spokesperson for the airline, Banji Ola, said Arik had alerted all air travelers to “a temporary disruption” to operations, pending insurance renewal, adding that the management was working round the clock to resolve the matter, as quickly as possible.
“All flights of the airline have been cancelled for Tuesday, September 13, 2016 and the airline has stated that it would be getting in touch with passengers to provide an update on rescheduling of their flights.
“This situation is likely to continue for the next few days until such time that the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) approves a waiver on a priority basis for the new insurance company to renew the policy,” reads the statement.
Arik added that the long Sallah holiday had delayed the renewal process.Its Group CEO, Michael Arumemi-Ikhide, assured members of the public, customers, stakeholders and partners, saying the company would resume normal operations. He appealed for understanding.
“Where flights have been cancelled, the airline will notify passengers through SMS. And in such cases, passengers will be accommodated on first available alternative flight, as soon as normal flight operations resume,” he said.