FAAN grounds Lagos, Warri airports, others over N2.6b debt

Murtala Muhammed Airport 2 PHOTO:Wikipedia

• Chaotic Yuletide imminent as airlines fault decision
• Osubi airfield says operations won’t stop, declares notice false

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) yesterday announced the withdrawal of its services from the Murtala Muhammed Airport II (MMA2) terminal in Lagos. Also affected are the airports in Gombe, Kebbi and Delta states.The action, which takes effect this morning, is in protest against a debt of N2.608 billion allegedly owed by the facilities.

The development, as Yuletide nears, could result in more chaotic scheduled services for airlines and passengers.But Osubi airfield in Warri, Delta State, denied it owes FAAN. The private facility said it has not been dependent on the agency’s services in the last two years. “Therefore the so-called withdrawal of services at Osubi is false, a misinformation and abuse of standards,” the management said. Operating airlines have started migrating from MMA2 to the nearby General Aviation Terminal (GAT) also in Lagos.

FAAN, in a Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) worldwide on Saturday, said it would be withdrawing aviation security, firefighting and rescue operations from Osubi, Gombe and MMA2 beginning midnight Sunday, December 9, 2018. Experts described these as safety critical services without which no airport could process flights. Findings revealed the alleged debt profiles of the facilities as: Gombe airport, N607 million; Kebbi, N124 million; Osubi airstrip N77 million.

The breakdown of a N1.9 billion debt owed FAAN by Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL) as at July 31, 2018 showed N1.4 billion for the provision of aviation security; N143.5 million for fire/safety cost; marshalling, N2.2 million; and an undisclosed management cost.It will be recalled that the MMA2, arguably the best operating terminal in the country, has been the subject of protracted legal dispute between BASL, its concessionaire, on the one hand, and FAAN and the Federal Government on the other. While FAAN alleged it is owed a debt of N1.9 billion for support services rendered to the terminal from 2007 till date, BASL demanded that FAAN and the Federal Government obey a court order and pay N200 billion for running the GAT illegally.

An official of FAAN, who did not want to be mentioned, said: “We have decided to take this step as the last resort after all other overtures to make the concerned agencies abide by their part of the bargain failed. Please, note that the Federal Airports Authority is also a business concern. The days of financing airports projects and maintenance by the Federal Government are far gone.

“As the general public, airlines and passengers continue to clamour for improved services at our airports, it is only reasonable that we also prevail on those on the other side to also fulfill their own part of the bargain for a prosperous and mutually beneficial industry.”The Managing Director of Osubi airfield, Femi Oyediran, told The Guardian that the alleged debt claims were false and an attempt to create confusion. He recalled that FAAN until January 2017 had about four officials at Osubi, for which the authority billed the facility N4 million monthly.

“The matter was reported to NCAA and FAAN withdrew its men since that January. Till date, they are not providing us any service and they have nothing to withdraw. So, to use NOTAM to convey misinformation makes no sense. They are just out to raise a false alarm and it is very sad and disgusting. Osubi remains open for operations,” Oyediran said. FAAN’s General Manager Public Affairs Henrietta Yakubu had not responded to inquiries as at press time.

Arik Air meanwhile said beginning from today until further notice, it would suspend flights to Osubi and Gombe airports and also move Port Harcourt flights out of MMA2.Public Relations and Communications Manager Adebanji Ola, in a statement, advised Warri-bound passengers to use Benin airport as alternative, while Gombe-bound passengers are to use Bauchi airport.He added that all Arik Air flights to Omagwa airport in Port Harcourt would, as from the same date, operate from Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal One, otherwise known as GAT.

Spokesperson of Air Peace airlines Chris Iwarah described the development as an unfortunate resort to self-help and a terrible approach to business. He regretted that the action came at a time the country should be working towards the creation of job opportunities and environments conducive to business.

According to him, “The Federal High Court is available to adjudicate on this issue. So, why not go to court? Have we considered the impact of these frequent disruptions on the operations of airlines? What happens to airlines’ staff at these airports? Does it make good business sense for an airline to retain workers who are doing nothing? What about other business set-ups serving the airlines at these airports and their staff? What about the interest of the travelling public? Was this given consideration? What about passenger facilitation?”

He added: “Take Lagos, for instance, facilities at GAT and MM2 are already grossly overstretched. So, how does GAT alone cope with the shutdown? Can we imagine the expected delays and resultant cancellations? Can we imagine the rush for refund by passengers whose flights would be disrupted? And to imagine that this is coming in December, the peak of demand for air travel. Can we be doing all this and still expect the airlines to do well? The flaws of this decision are just innumerable.”

Aviation Security Consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said he was aware that a lot of operators, including airlines, were indebted to the critical safety services provider including the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA). The sector however is at this stage because there are no more government interventions as there used to be, he said.

“Most disturbing is the indifference of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to its responsibility to oversee the compliance of all the operators and safety services providers to economic regulations as much as they do safety and security regulations. The attention of the NCAA is very much needed before the problems get out of hand, as I believe they could help,” he said.

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