MD, AMCON, Mustapha Chike-Obi
By Chinedu Eze
With the closure of its operations today following the sack of about 50 workers last week, Air Nigeria will now join the many Nigerian airlines that operated for a brief period before going under.
But the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) may give the dying airline a new lease of life as THISDAY has learnt that the corporation is considering a merger of the airline with Aero Contractors to create a bigger airline with enough aircraft and domestic, regional and international routes, to give Arik Air a run for its money.
If it happens, the merger will save several jobs, create a stronger airline and could metamorphose into a national carrier, which aviation sector sources said conforms to plans by the Federal Government to encourage consolidation in the floundering aviation sector.
AMCON, THISDAY gathered, has been approached by United Bank for Africa Plc to take over Air Nigeria’s non-performing loans estimated to exceed N35 billion.
Confirming this, sources in AMCON said the corporation was currently undertaking a valuation of the loan and the airline before deciding on the next course of action.
One AMCON official added that one of the options that has been tabled on the measures to take to resuscitate Air Nigeria is its merger with Aero Contractors, whose loans were also taken over by the corporation a while back.
He, however, explained that the consideration of the merger was preliminary and would only be taken after the valuation of Air Nigeria’s loans and the airline, and would still require the approval of the AMCON board.
AMCON has the legal power to merge both airlines because of their heavy indebtedness to the banks and there have been indications that AMCON was considering taking over the running of Aero Contractors, just as it had done for Arik.
Following the takeover of their non-performing loans, the Managing Director of AMCON, Mustapha Chike-Obi, had recently revealed that distressed airlines owe the corporation N135 billion.
With such massive liabilities, technically, the corporation owns these airlines, thus giving the Federal Government the leeway to encourage mergers of the ailing airlines.
A source in the Ministry of Aviation told THISDAY that while the ministry was not privy to the plan to merge the airline, he said that such a plan was a welcome development because it would guaranty the continued existence of the two airlines.
“It will retain the workers who will otherwise be sacked and in future more workers will be recruited and Nigeria will have a strong airline that will benefit from the huge market that we have,” he said.
But he was silent on whether government was contemplating making the would-be merged airline a national carrier in the future.
In a related development, over 190 Air Nigeria passengers who arrived at the Gatwick Airport in the UK at 8.30am on Friday to fly back home were allegedly stranded at the airport for about eight hours.
Local media reported that the delay was caused by lack of fuel to fly the aircraft to Lagos, thus the passengers were asked to contribute an extra £40 each for the purchase of aviation fuel.
The plane eventually left Gatwick airport at 4.30pm and arrived in Nigeria at about 12.30am yesterday. However, the passengers were asked to come back for their luggage.
There were unconfirmed reports that some of the passengers are planning to sue the airline and its chairman, Jimoh Ibrahim, for the delay and their yet-to-be released luggage.
Following its delayed flight to Lagos, Air Nigeria will be grounded from today for at least a year.