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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

FG goes after Arik, BiCourtney over N37bn Aviation debt

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The Federal Government has expressed readiness to clampdown on debtors in the aviation sector, with accumulated debt hitting N37 billion. Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, at the weekly ministerial briefing, yesterday, said Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL) and Arik Airline are in the pole positions of debtors to various aviation agencies.

In a related development, the Federal Government has instructed airline operators to refund the full cost of travel tickets to passengers after a two-hour delay.

Sirika had in November 2020 said the local airlines’ total debt burden to regulatory agencies stood at N22 billion. A breakdown showed the sum of N19.37 billion and $6,993,284 million (N2.7 billion) as unremitted Ticket Sales Charge (TSC), and Cargo Sales Charge (CSC) collected on behalf of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and its sister agencies.

Yesterday, he said the debt had climbed to N37 billion and a source of worry for the agencies and service providers to the sector. He said the government had deployed a great deal of discretion in handling the situation, vowing, however, that the authorities would not hesitate to go after the debtors.

“In fact, service providers in our system have said ‘these guys are owing us, we should take the money from the money being given as palliatives.’ We said no; the intent of President Buhari is to ensure that he cushions the effect on businesses. Let us find a way of surviving, and let them take the money.

“So, this brings to the question of the money owed to the parastatals. It is about N37 billion that they are owing, especially Arik, the culprit. I know they are owing us about N14 billion. If you owe the government, you owe FAAN. Bi-Courtney owes about N14 billion as at the last count. It has not paid a single dime since the time it started to run the terminal building. And we have not ceased giving him electricity, water, fire cover, and so on. He hasn’t paid a dime for 13 years.

“And if we go to shut his doors, the media, of course, and Nigerian people will say we are killing businesses but he is killing our services too. Because we need to have that money to provide for that toilet that you are looking at in Lagos airport. We will go after the money.”

The BASL facility in question, that is the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal II (MMA2) in Lagos, is a subject of lingering disagreement between BASL and FG/FAAN over breaches of agreement, for which Bi-Courtney has also laid claim to N200 billion worth of compensation.
In its reaction by its spokesman, Mikail Mumuni, BASL, operator of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos Terminal Two (MMA2) denied owing the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) any amount at all. In a statement on Thursday night, he said: “On the contrary, it is FAAN that owes Bi-Courtney over N200 billion by depriving it of its legitimate earnings over the past 14 years.”

This, he said arose by FAAN opening and operating the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), thus competing with BASL with government money in the running of the Domestic Terminal in a flagrant breach of the concession agreement.

“BASL in line with the dispute resolution process contained in the agreement had an arbitration award in its favour. It also got the judgement of a High Court, six Court of Appeal judgements and a Supreme Court judgement, all in its favour and sustained the monetary award,” he said.

Mumuni stressed that the courts ruled that any debt that may be alleged against BASL by FAAN should be deducted from the credit judgement after due verification.

He added that “the N14 billion debt mentioned by the Minister is totally inconsistent with the demand by FAAN, the body which has been liaising with BASL. Their last demand was about N1bn which was promptly responded to by BASL stating categorically that there was no such debt.”

Mumuni said: “We believe that Minister was not properly briefed by FAAN as we also pay our electricity bills as and when due. We equally provide elaborate security at the terminal, which has continued to attract commendation from stakeholders. ”

ON multiple flight delays and cancellations, Sirika said consumers have rights that airlines must begin to respect. “On domestic flights delayed beyond one hour, the carrier should provide refreshment, and one telephone call, or one SMS, or one e-mail. They should send you an SMS or email or call you to say, ‘I am sorry, I am delaying for one hour.’

“Delay for two hours and beyond, the carrier shall reimburse passengers the full value of their tickets. Delay between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m., the carrier shall provide hotel accommodation, refreshment, meal, two free calls, SMS, email and transport to-and-fro airport.”

The Minister, who said his ministry has started sanctioning some airlines that default on consumer rights, however, urged passengers not to be unruly at airports.

The Minister added that the Federal Government will come up with a ‘simple policy’ to regulate the use of drones for private and commercial purposes. According to him, a lack of regulation for drones could cause ‘disaster’ within the civil aviation space. Sirika, however, did not give details on how and when the government or the concerned agency, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, would start the regulation of drone users.

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles that are remotely piloted by aviators or by their owners on the ground. Addressing journalists, the Minister said: “There are remotely piloted aircraft now and unmanned beings or aircraft as it is, or drones as you may call them. They are becoming a phenomenon of their own. Everybody is flying drones now. They are for good uses; you fly drones now to find pipeline vandalisation or breakage or carry out integrity tests, you fly drones now to many places to order pizza, to send birthday gifts and so on and so forth.

“Very soon, we will find our airspace dotted with all these craft and managing them alone will become such a huge challenge because they will be operating around within the airspace and somebody needs to control them.

“So, we thought that we should create a policy. The last time I spoke on drones, I gave an example of a friend of mine who was flying about three miles away from the (Aso) Villa. He was flying it at about 500ft above ground level and he was flying it towards the airport, which is at the west side of the city and he was flying it about 65km per hour.

“These drones are now beginning to carry loads like 5kg, 10kg, or more. If this gentleman (friend of mine) is just flying this drone around and there is an inbound airplane or an airplane that is taking off, it could hit the airplane, get ingested in the engine and cause disaster. And don’t think it is not going to happen.

“So, we thought we should develop a policy for remotely piloted aircraft to have them organised and regulated. We are policy-makers and we will make policies that will keep our country safe and secure. The policy is going to be very simple: just like you walk in and buy the drones and also be able to follow those rules and regulations even if you are an enthusiast,” he added.

MEANWHILE, the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) Nigeria, yesterday, released probe reports on an accident and seven serious incidents that happened between 2010 and 2019, while preliminary reports on the crash of a military aircraft that killed the late Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, and 10 others will be ready in a week’s time.

Yesterday’s reports were accompanied with a total of nine safety recommendations, addressed to the regulatory body, the affected airlines and the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), among others.

Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Akin Olateru, who disclosed this, said the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) commissioned them to assist in investigation, which is ongoing and whether NAF makes that public is not AIB-N’s call. Olateru added that the released reports were the largest in a series, and part of measures to enhance air safety.

Olateru said: “The release of eight aircraft accident reports at once to the public is the biggest haul since the establishment of AIB. The bureau has released a total of 67 reports and 220 safety recommendations since its creation in 2007, out of which 48 reports and 139 safety recommendations were during the present administration.”

Among the findings released is a report on a serious incident involving a B737-500 aircraft operated by Air Peace Limited with nationality and registration marks 5N-BRN, which occurred at Port Harcourt Airport, Omagwa, Rivers State on June 22, 2019.

Another is a serious incident involving HS-125-700A aircraft operated by Associated Aviation Limited with nationality and registration marks 5N-BEX, which occurred at Benin Airport, Edo state, Nigeria on July 10, 2011. Also, a report on the serious incident involving a B737-200 aircraft with nationality and registration marks 5N-BIF owned and operated by Chanchangi Airlines, which occurred at Kaduna Airport, Runway 05, Kaduna State, Nigeria on August 20, 2010.

Report on the serious incident involving a Bombardier DHC-8-Q400 aircraft owned and operated by Arik Air Nigeria Ltd with nationality and registration marks 5N-BKX, which occurred en route Kotoka International Airport, Accra, Ghana on March 6, 2018.

Report on the serious incident involving a Boeing 737- 500 aircraft operated by Med-View Airline with nationality and registration marks 5N-BQM, which occurred at FL320 en route Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos on July 23, 2019.

Report on the Accident involving a Hawker Siddeley HS-125-800 XP aircraft owned and operated by SWAT Technology Limited with nationality and registration marks N497AG, which occurred on Runway 21, Port-Harcourt Airport, Omagwa, Rivers State on June 11, 2015.

Others are: report on the serious incident involving an Airbus 330-343 aircraft operated by Turkish Airlines Inc. with nationality and registration marks TC-LOL, which occurred at Port Harcourt Intl. Airport, Omagwa, Rivers State, Nigeria on December 31, 2019.

And a report on the serious incident involving Boeing 737- 300 aircraft owned and operated by Air Peace Limited with nationality and registration marks 5N-BUK which occurred at Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos on 15th May, 2019.

The Bureau has released a total of 67 reports and 220 safety recommendations since its creation in 2007, out of which 48 reports and 139 safety recommendations were during the present administration.

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