Despite huge financial losses on its domestic operations occasioned by the disruption of its operations by the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria [ATSSSAN], Nigeria’s flag carrier airline, Arik may also be counting its losses on regional and international operations.
The carrier has huge flight network to New York, Johannesburg, London, Accra, Banjul, Dakar, Monrovia, among others. It was learnt that virtually all its flights including destinations earlier mentioned were affected.
This became manifest after the airline decided to shut its operations following the picketing of its offices for allegedly owing the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria [FAAN] N12.5B for services said to have been rendered by the aviation agency.
The Managing Director of the airline, Chris Ndulue, while fielding questions from a television station yesterday denied that his firm owe FAAN such humongous amount of money, adding that Arik had paid FAAN over N18 billion in services rendered since inception of its operations.
He said what was being reconciled was about N5b, which he claimed is still in dispute.
Yesterday’s grounding of Arik equally led to the stranding of international passengers already booked on flights that never took off, causing them untold hardship.
Equally worrisome was the fact that since domestic operations of the carrier were the first to suffer, it would be senseless for passengers coming from London and connecting from Lagos to Enugu for instance to embark on such trip.
Arik’s current situation could lead to travel dislocation if the crisis lingers. The airline controls about 30 per cent of the market and operates many destinations some other airlines do not operate to.
Other airlines could also capitalise on its misfortune to fill up their aircraft to destinations like Abuja, Enugu, Owerri, Port-Harcourt, Kano, Sokoto, Kaduna and Maiduguri among others, just as air fares could rise as demand would no doubt outnumber seat capacity.
However, the impact may not be felt that much considering the fact that airlines like Dana, FirstNation Airways, Medview, Overland Air Peace, Azman could easily fill Arik’s void compared to what happened four years ago when the airline held the nation to ransom by shutting its operations over similar impasse.
Unlike four years ago when the Federal Government practically begged Arik to come back to service despite unresolved settlement of debts owed by the airline, the situation now is very different as there are more airlines that can make their action inconsequential.
Meanwhile, the airline has promised to brief the media today at noon at its head office at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos on wide range of issues including situations that led to union’s action and how to quickly end the face-off that has done incalculable damage to its operations and image.