By Chinedu Eze
Former Vice-Chairman of Arik Air, Senator Anietie Okon has alleged that some interests in government had planned to take over Arik Air and sell it at a paltry amount.
Okon said the interest group took advantage of the financial distress of the airline occasioned by the crash of Nigeriaâ€™s economy and the resultant plunge of the value of the Naira.
The situation, he said, made it extremely difficult to obtain foreign exchange to run the airline, which has the largest fleet in the country, adding, the bad economy also affected some other companies in the country, which rely on forex to sustain their operations.
Okon observed that currently, no Nigerian airline is benefitting properly from the bilateral agreement Nigeria signed with other countries; rather the government has given away all the routes to foreign airlines at the detriment of Nigeriaâ€™s interest.
He remarked that the economic and social consequences of government of not supporting Arik and other airlines in the industry are what the country is experiencing today- job losses, the weakening of the value of naira etc. He recalled that Arik was selling tickets for international destinations in naira whereas foreign airlines continued to demand for dollars. Furthermore, he stated that Arik had 2,600 staff against the foreign airlines that have at most 10 Nigerian staff.
According to him, in other societies, government would have stepped in to save the airline by providing it and others support, knowing that the economic problem was a national issue, but instead, it forcefully took Arik over and today the airline is operating at less than 40per cent of its capacity.
However, Okon noted that AMCON management is striving to keep the airline operating but at very low capacity, with most of the aircraft due for maintenance. He stated that at the 11thÂ year of the airline, the former management had planned to bring in new aircraft from Boeing, the B737 MAX to take over from the existing ones while the later would go for proper maintenance.
He said this was supposed to be the fleet renewal strategy of the airline, as its desire was to maintain young fleet in its operations.
â€œThe stakeholders are gearing for a rebirth of the airline. Eight aircraft are ripe for heavy checks. They are there parked and wasting away. They have degraded the maintenance culture of the company because we take the aircraft to European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) rated maintenance facility, but we heard they now take them to Lithuania facility, where the maintenance cost is cheap but even at that, they cannot even pay for the aircraft they have taken out,â€ he said.
Senator Okon remarked: â€œThe Nigerian government is always too willing to cut deals with foreign airlines and give our market away. Our country is losing so much for the selfish interest of a few.â€