Scores of Arik Air Passengers Stranded Across Country’s Airports

•As FAAN workers disrupts airline’s flights over N12.5bn debts •Airline announces temporary suspension of flights

Scores of passengers were yesterday stranded across the country’s airports, following the picketing of the Nigeria’s domestic airline, Arik Air by the workers of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) over N12.5 billion.

The development has however forced the airline to announce suspension of all its flights.

As early as 6.30am, the workers, led by the aviation unions; Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), had gathered at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) where they prevented the airline staff from attending to their passengers.

Besides stopping the airline staff from attending to travellers, the FAAN workers withdrew their services from the airline, which made it impossible for it to operate its early morning flights.

Following the confusion, all the Arik Airline passengers were caught up in the melee, which also spilled over to other airports across the country, where the airline operates to.

Thousands of passengers who could afford to buy new tickets from other airlines were seen trying to change their bookings to other available airlines like Med-View, Air Peace, Dana and Aero Contractors.

The aviation unions vowed that the withdrawal of service to the airline would continue until it pays at least N2billion out of its N12.5billion to the agency, stressing that all the reconciliation moves by the agency and the Federal Government had failed.

The Nigerian Police, led by the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Airport Command, Mr Omololu Bishi, was at the rally to prevent breakdown of laws and order.

The protesting FAAN workers sang solidarity songs with different placards, saying, ‘Debtors pay up all you owe FAAN now,” “FAAN workers!!! No money, no work,” and “Arik!!! Pay your debts. N12.5billionn is too much,” among several other inscriptions.

The Acting Secretary-General, NUATE, Comrade Olayinka Abioye, in his address to the workers, insisted that the airline must pay before services could be restored to it.

He explained that as the protest was going on, there were lots of pressures on the unions from the ‘powers that be” to restore services to the airline, stressing that the unions had not stopped the airline from operating, but only withdrew its services to it.

According to Abioye, Arik Air had not shown readiness to pay back some of the debts it owed FAAN, noting that FAAN required money to upgrade its facilities, which the airline and some others had been complaining were not up to standards.

His words: “These are the people that go around complaining that our infrastructures are not upgraded. How can they be upgraded when an individual entity owes us N12.5 billion? We will only leave here if the airline pays at least N2billion today as part of its debts.”

Also speaking at the venue, the President of ATSSSAN, Comrade Benjamin Okewu, declared that the unions and FAAN workers had not embarked on industrial action against the airline, but only withdrew the services they render to the airline as a result of the massive debts.

Confirming the situation, Arik Air said its workers were actually prevented from gaining access to their duty posts thereby disrupting the day’s operations.

According to the image maker of the airline, Adebanji Ola, “the action by the workers’ union is connected with the long-standing and unsubstantiated claim by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) of spurious indebtedness of the airline to the agency, which is now before a Federal High Court in Lagos at the instance of FAAN.

“For several months, the management of Arik Air and FAAN have been meeting to reconcile payment accounts between the two institutions. The reconciliation process is still ongoing until the latest actions by the union.

“This is not the first time that FAAN workers’ union will be taking the laws into their hands by disrupting operations of Arik Air.

“The current situation is deeply out of control of Arik Air and the management of the airline has been compelled to suspend all domestic operations for today. This will remain in force until such a time the unfortunate situation is resolved.

“Arik Air sincerely apologise for the inconveniences the FAAN workers’ union action may have caused its esteemed passengers. We live to serve the needs of the people of the great nation Nigeria.”

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