Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - Nigeria's largest domestic airline, Arik Air Ltd., Thursday suspended all domestic flights indefinitely after officials of the various aviation unions besieged the offices of the airline earlier in the day to press for the payments of billions of naira owed to aviation agencies.
Officials of the unions, including the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), disrupted the operations of the airline at the domestic wing of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in the commercial city of Lagos Thursday morning.
''Due to an action by the FAAN (Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria) Unions at the General Aviation Terminal in Lagos, we are sorry to advise our passengers that all domestic flights by Arik Air are cancelled for today, Thursday 20 September,'' the airline said in a statement.
''Passengers who have tickets to travel today (Thursday) will be re-booked on available flights once operations resume,'' it said.
However, the airlines officials later told a news conference that it would not resume flights until the issues that caused the suspension have been resolved.
Arik Air officials told PANA on the condition of anonymity that FAAN is behind the unions' action, and that it was aimed at forcing the airlines to clear its indebtedness to the aviation agency. FAAN has denied being behind the unions' action.
While the unions said Air Air is owing FAAN 7 billion naira, the airlines said it owed only 1.6 billion naira, having paid 2 billion naira between January and now (US$1=158 naira).
''We have been paying instalments of 100 million naira per month (to FAAN),'' Arik Air Chief Executive Officer Chris Ndulue told journalists, while pleading with the Nigerian government to intervene urgently to resolve all the issues so that the airline can resume its flights.
Arik Air operates a fleet of about 20 state-of-art aircraft, a number of them brand new, and flies to most destinations in the country, as well as to London and New York.
High indebtedness and operational costs have forced many domestic airlines in Nigeria to either suspend operations or operate at far below capacity.
The June crash of an airplane operated by another domestic airline, Dana Air, in which about 159 people died, led the authorities to suspend its licence, dealing another blow to the domestic airline industry.
The government has however cleared Dana to resume operations.
-0- PANA SEG 20Sept2012