Nigeria’s largest domestic airline, Arik Air, resumed operations Sunday after ending Thursday’s suspension of its flights in protest against the disruption of its operations by unionists backing the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
Arik operated about 100 flights on Sunday alone, ferrying some 7,000 passengers in an apparent attempt to clear the backlog occasioned by the unilateral flight suspension.
The Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) picketed the offices of Arik Air last Thursday in protest against the 7 billion naira which the airline is alleged to be owing FAAN (US$1=158 Naira).
The airline has denied owing FAAN 7 billion naira, saying it owes only 1.6 billion naira, having paid 2 billion naira between January and now.
Unconfirmed local newspaper reports later alleged that the crisis was caused by the airline’s refusal to yield to requests by Aviation Minister Stella Oduah for a 5% stake in the airline. The minister denies the allegation.
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, the sub-region as well as to London and New York. The international flights were not affected by Thursday’s flight suspension.
High indebtedness and operational costs have forced many domestic airlines in Nigeria to either suspend operations or operate at far below capacity.
The situation has been worsened by the June crash of an aircraft operated by another domestic airline, Dana Air, in which about 159 people died.
Nigeria’s federal government has, however, cleared Dana to resume operations.