Former Vice-Chairman of Arik Air, Senator Anietie Okon has alleged that some interest groups in government took advantage of the financial distress of the airline and wanted to takeover and sell it at a giveaway price but that their moves were frustrated by Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON).
AMCON is currently managing the airline.
Senator Okon stated that the financial distress the airline went was occasioned by the crash of Nigeria’s economy that forced it into recession and the plunge of the value of the Naira.
Speaking in an interview in Lagos, the Senator explained that the situation made it extremely difficult for the management of the airline to access foreign exchange to manage the entity, which according to him has the largest aircraft fleet in the country.
He added that the bad economy did not only affect the airline but that it also affected some companies in the country that rely on forex to sustain their operations.
Okon noted that currently no Nigerian carrier is benefiting properly from the bilateral agreement Nigeria signed with other countries, but that instead the Federal Government has given away all the routes to foreign airlines at the detriment of Nigeria’s interest.
He listed the economic and social consequences of government not supporting Arik Air and other airlines in the country to include: job losses and the weakening of the value of naira.
Senator Okon recalled that while Arik Air was selling tickets for international destinations in Naira foreign airlines continue to demand for dollars, adding that Arik Air had 2, 600 staff against that of foreign airlines that may have at most 10 Nigerian staff.
Speaking further, he stated that in other climes government would have stepped in to save the airline and other airline by supporting them, considering the fact the economic challenge was a national issue, but instead it forcefully took Arik over and today the airline is operating less than 40 per cent of its capacity.
He however noted that AMCON was striving to keep the airline afloat but at very low capacity, with most of the aircraft due for maintenance but without the resources to take them out for repairs.
The former Vice Chairman added that at the 11th year of the airline, the former management had planned to bring in new the B737 MAX aircraft to take over from the existing ones while the latter go for heavy maintenance.
He stated that this was supposed to be the fleet renewal strategy of the airline that wanted to maintain young fleet in its operations.
According to him, “The 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.”
He lamented that 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.”