By Chinedu Eze
Workers of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) yesterday blocked Air Peace 7:30 am flight from the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos over alleged N7 million debt, which was later confirmed to have been paid by the airline.
According to the Chairman and CEO of the airline, Chief Allen Onyema, even when it was confirmed that the alleged debt had been paid, the FAAN workers still said that there was another outstanding N1.8 million yet to be paid by the airline, even though debts to aviation agencies accrue as long as the airlines were operating flights.
Acting General Manager, Public â€˜Affairs, FAAN, Henrietta Yakubu confirmed that Air Peace had paid the alleged N7 million debt and also confirmed that the management of FAAN apologised to the airline, noting that Air Peace had been a responsible customer, that had been supportive in providing facilities at the Sam Mbakwe Cargo Airport, Owerri.
Onyema said he was peeved by the way the Enugu Airport Manager, Mr. Mgbemena Orjiako spoke to him, allegedly calling him a riff-raff when he protested the disruption of the airlineâ€™s flight, noting that it was irresponsible for an airport manager to speak that way to a customer.
THISDAY contacted Orjiakor who allegedly said Chief Onyema spoke harshly to him at the beginning and he asked him to stop speaking like a riff-raff, but informed source from Enugu alleged that the airport manager was often unruly to airline operators.
Â â€œI got a call this morning that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN) stopped our operations in Enugu over N7 million debt, which we have already paid. The airport manager did not go back to check his books to know if we actually paid or not but hurriedly stopped our operations, a situation that is costing us millions of naira.
â€œWe do not know if the airport manager is sponsored by someone to bring down Air Peace because even after Lagos sent evidence of the payment, rather than own up to the fact that the agency lacked proper accounting, the agency said the airline is owing an outstanding N1.8million. This is why I said this act is sabotageâ€, Onyema said.
He lamented that an airline that owed the government over N11billion was allowed to operate that morning but Air Peace was temporary shut down over N7million naira it already paid.
â€œWhen I called the Enugu airport manager to complain to him about the situation, he answered me rudely by saying I was talking like a riffraff. This man is not fit to be in that position.Â
This same airport manager does not know that he is employed today because of the airline. How can he call me riffraff?
â€œIf we are not adequately compensated for our losses, we promise the government that we will go to court. This is part of the reasons why airlines in Nigeria do not survive,â€ the Air Peace boss fumed.
â€œI had to call the FAAN Managing Director, Saleh Dunoma, who was not aware of the situation. He politely told me that he will handle it and he was very sorry about the situation. The director of commercials also got across to me and also told me he was looking into the situation and they will get back to me.
â€œThe Director of Human Resources also got across to me and pleaded with me. But Mgbemena Orjiakor, the Enugu Station Manager, will have to explain to the world who sent him because I believe this is outright sabotage. That station manager was not remorseful and very insultingâ€, he added.
He noted that the outcome of it was that the airline would not be able to do its night flight into Enugu today because Enugu has 7:00 pmcut off time, adding that of all days, he chose a Friday, which was the busiest day of all airlines to shut down their operations.