Local airlines are to suspend flight operations into the Osubi Airport, Warri; the Gombe Airport; Birnin Kebbi Airport; and the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal Two (MMA2), Lagos, following the withdrawal of services by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to the facilities over debts estimated at about N716million.
It waslearnt that the four airports are operated by private firms under concession agreements for state governments (the Gombe and Birnin Kebbi Airports), the MMA2 owned by the Federal Government is operated by Bi-courtney Aviation Services Limited, while the Osubi Airport in Warri is operated by Shoreline Oil Services for Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria.
Spokeswoman for FAAN, Mrs. Henritta Yakubu, in a statement said the withdrawal comes “following a final notice of payment issued to the above airports over a month ago.”
Spokesman for Arik Air, Mr. Adebanji Ola who confirmed the development to aviation correspondents said FAAN in a Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) issued on Saturday, December 8, 2018, stated that it will be withdrawing the following services from the affected airports as from the midnight of Sunday, December 9, 2018: aviation security, fire fighting cover and rescue operation facilities.
Under the Nigerian civil aviation regulations, it is mandatory for private airport owners to get the above listed services from FAAN as pre-conditions to being granted operational licences by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
It was learnt that the Gombe Airport is owing FAAN about N607, 289, 972; while Birnin Kebbi owes N124, 547, 240; and Osubi Airstrip owes N76,772, 948.
The controversy over the actual debts owed FAAN by Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL) is however a subject of litigation in a Lagos High Court.
FAAN estimates the debt at N2billion, while MMA2 alleges insincerity on the part of FAAN on the figure insisting was FAAN that was instead indebted to BASL.
Ola, however, said the decision of FAAN to withdraw it’s services from the airport meant that affected airlines will have to suspend their operations into those airports till the debt crisis is resolved.
The decision holds dire consequences to the financial of local airlines and also comes with attendant inconveniences to passengers who ply those routes as they will be forced to use longer alternate airports.
Ola said, “Arik Air will be suspending its flights to Osubi Airport, Gombe Airport and also move it’s Port Harcourt flights out of the MMA2 Lagos to the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal One otherwise known as General Aviation Terminal (GAT) from Monday, December 10, 2018 until further notice,” Ola said.
“We therefore advice Warri passengers to use the Benin Airport as an alternate airport, while Gombe passengers are to use Bauchi Airport,” he added.
Aviation analyst, Capt. John Ojikutu in his reaction heaped the blame on the NCAA, saying its failure on the economic regulations of the industry was responsible for a lot of collapsed deals like the ones between FAAN and private airport owners.
“I am aware that a lot of operators including airlines are indebted to the critical safety services providers, but the most disturbing one is the indifference of the NCAA to its economic regulations oversight responsibility on all operators and safety services providers as it does with its safety and security regulations,” Ojikutu said.