The Airline Operators of Nigeria, the umbrella body for domestic airlines, on Sunday cancelled its decision to halt flight services across the country beginning today (Monday).
But before the AON announced the cancellation of its earlier decision, five of its members had already declared that they would not join in the plan to suspend flights from Monday. They include Aero, Arik Air, Dana Air, Ibom Air, and Green Africa Airlines.
This came as the Federal Government revealed on Sunday that it had been supporting the AON and provided a bailout of N4bn to domestic airlines during the COVID-19 pandemic despite the past and present state of indebtedness by the carriers to government agencies.
Also, members of the House of Representatives on Sunday stated that they would meet with airline operators on Monday following concerns by the carriers as regards the astronomical jump in the price of aviation fuel from N190/litre to N700/litre.
On the latest decision by the airlines, the AON President, Abdulmunaf Sarina, in a statement issued on Sunday, said, “The AON wishes to inform the general public that further to numerous calls from the highest echelons in government with promises to urgently intervene in the crises being faced by airlines due to the astronomic and continuously rising cost of JetA1, that the AON has acceded to requests to withdraw the action for the time being while we allow for a fresh round of dialogue with the government in the hope of reaching an amicable solution.
“We have also reached this decision with the highest consideration for our esteemed customers who have been faced with uncertainty over the last few days and to enable them to have access to travel to their various destinations for the time being during the period of discussions with relevant authorities.
“In view of the above and in the interest of national economy and security considerations, AON hereby wishes to notify the general public that the earlier announced shutdown of operations on May 9, 2022, is hereby suspended in good fate pending the outcome of hopefully fruitful engagement with government.”
Before the latest announcement by AON, the Federal Government had earlier said on Sunday that four domestic carriers would not join in the flights’ suspension decision.
The Federal Ministry of Aviation disclosed this in a statement issued in Abuja by the Special Assistant to the Minister of Aviation on Public Affairs, James Odaudu.
The statement read in part, “It is gratifying that members of the association (AON) have started reviewing the decision to withdraw flight services, with Ibom Air, Green Africa Airlines, Arik Air, Dana and others confirming that they will carry on with their normal flight schedules.
“We hope that other members will consider the expected impact on businesses and individuals and review their decision.”
The ministry stated that since the declaration by AON, enquiries had continued to flood in the FMA with some under the erroneous impression that the withdrawal was a kind of strike against the government.
“We wish to state that the decision of the association is purely a business one as they are private businesses reacting to market forces but appealing for interventions to enable them to carry on with their operations,” the FMA stated.
It added, “The ministry has always made conscious efforts to assist members of the Airline Operators of Nigeria, some of which includes facilitating a meeting between the association and Mr President, during which the association got several concessions, including duty-free importation of aircraft, engines, spare parts and components.”
The ministry said the aviation minister at various times personally took members of the AON to engage with the Central Bank of Nigeria to sort out issues of access to foreign exchange for their operations and also the NNPC to exploit ways of ensuring the availability of aviation fuel through importation or from the major marketers.
“It should also be recalled that members of the association were also considered for, and given bail-out funds to the tune of N4bn during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that they remained afloat. This was without prejudice to the fact that most of them were heavily indebted to aviation agencies, as they still are,” the government stated.
It, however, stated that it believed that members of the association were patriots who had continued to bear the brunt of an unfavourable oil market for which the government commended their doggedness.
The government also assured foreign airlines operating in Nigeria that all logistics and services for their operations remained in place as usual and that no disruption whatsoever should be envisaged.
“As a government, we reiterate our commitment to the continued growth of the aviation industry where airlines and other service providers operate in a profitable and competitive environment,” the FMA stated.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has cancelled its emergency plenary scheduled for 2pm on Monday (today), about 24 hours after members were recalled from a recess.
For the second time within two weeks, the House had on Saturday said it would on Monday hold an emergency session.
Neither the Senate nor the Households plenary on Monday. The chambers sit on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Clerk to the House, Dr Yahaya Danzaria, in a notice issued on Saturday, less than one week after it adjourned plenary till May 24, 2022, said the emergency session was to discuss “critical issues of national importance.”
The House had recalled members to the chamber over the strike notice issued to the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika; and the Director-General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Musa Nuhu, by the Airline Operators of Nigeria.
The AON had threatened to shut down flight operations in the country from Monday, May 9, 2022, due to the unbearable high cost of aviation fuel (Jet-A1), which had risen from N190 to N700 per litre.
The notice by the AON had indicated that the intervention by the Senate and the House in the crisis occasioned by Jet-A1 scarcity and price hike had failed.
However, the Clerk issued another statement on Sunday to announce the cancellation of the emergency session.
“I am directed to inform all honourable members, staff, media and the general public that the House hereby cancels the emergency plenary session earlier scheduled for tomorrow, 9th May 2022.”
“This cancellation follows from the near-resolution of some of the major critical issues in the aviation industry that necessitated the original notice. The House appreciates the positive concern, reaction and contributions of all honourable members to these critical national issues.
“However, the leadership of the House will still meet with relevant stakeholders tomorrow, 9th May 2022 at 2pm. The House sincerely regrets any inconvenience this short notice would have caused,” the notice by Danzaria read.