Reps grill NCAT rector over training of pilots abroad
Passengers yesterday had a brawl with officials of Arik Air at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos over the cancellation of Lagos-Accra, Lagos-Banjul and other foreign flights for the fourth day in a row by the airline.
The passengers, who had since weekend put up with the cancellations, insisted on immediate refund that could not be provided by the officials. The recent takeover of the airline by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) due to a debt burden has further compounded the pressure in Arik’s operations.
The quick intervention of security officials prevented a breakdown of law and order, when angry passengers went for the duty manager. The situation was not different on Monday when the airline cancelled all afternoon and evening international flights, while still selling tickets online. Unsuspecting passengers only got to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) terminal to find that the flights had since been cancelled.
Arik Air had been embroiled in crisis, leading to its takeover and change of its management by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) last week.
AMCON has expressed concern over the airlines’ depleted fleet, from 28 to 10 commercial aircraft for both domestic and international operations. About 10 of the 28 aircraft are overseas for mandatory C-checks maintenance, while eight are grounded at the airline’s headquarters in Lagos.
One of the Accra-bound passengers said all he needed was either a refund or a hotel accommodation, neither of which had been provided since his arrival in Lagos last Friday for the trip.
“I came from Delta State to board this flight to Ghana. Since then, I have not been able to travel. They keep postponing the flight saying they have problems. Even if that is the case, am I not entitled to accommodation? They provided none and I have been sleeping in this place (airport terminal) and people are telling me not to be angry. What kind of a thing is this?” he asked in frustration.
Words from an Arik Air official saying to the passengers, “you should at least know that we are having problems” further infuriated the passenger and others.
Another passenger said he was headed for Banjul, The Gambia and had his flight cancelled last week and rescheduled for Sunday. The unnamed passenger said: “Before stepping out of my house in Apapa this afternoon, I called the customer care asking if the flight would go as scheduled. They said yes, only to get here and it is the same story. This is not fair at all,” the female passenger said. She was later told that the Banjul flight had been rescheduled for Wednesday.
Abayomi Akinsola, who stood aside watching the drama unfold, said the main challenge with the airline was the failure to disseminate the right information to its passengers and its ticketing staffers.
He said it was unfortunate that despite cancellations of most international flights, “the airline’s online portal kept selling tickets, collecting money and raising false hopes that people would travel.”
“It is actually fraudulent and it is fast becoming the way of life around here. They are a kind of people that will not give a refund on time. My refund for two tickets is still with them since six months. Ask for refund, they will start asking whether you bought at the counter or online.
“What I have found out is that even their staff here don’t have the right information about what is happening,” Akinsola said.
AMCON recently said that the “mess” met at Arik Air beat their imagination, but had commenced efforts to stabilise the airline. The new management will later this week announce a temporary scale-down of flight operations, to align with the available fleet size and end incessant flight cancellations.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has grilled the Rector of the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Captain Abdulsalam Mohammed over his decision to send 20 pilot trainers abroad.
The House via its Committee on Aviation led by Mrs. Nkiru Onyejiocha also accused the NCAT chief of going out of his way to spend $20,000 to hire an expatriate trainer identified as Rod Spencer.
A member of the committee, Abdulrazak Atunwa, a trained pilot who brought the issue to the fore questioned the rationale for hiring Spencer in the United Kingdom (UK) despite the avalanche of certified pilot trainers in the country.
He further queried the NCAT chief over the decision to pay unspecified amount of money in hard currency in the UK to train 20 pilot trainers even when there are certified instructors in the country.
Mohammed who acknowledged that there was a proposal to engage the expatriate disclosed that there was no such contract because he refused to heed the request.
He, however, admitted sponsoring the 20 trainer pilots for the training based on the fact that it was standard practice to send such trainers and engineers to the firm that sells training aircraft to NCAT.
This angered Atunwa who retorted: “Don’t pull wool over our eyes. There is nothing like that. Why pay in hard currency for such services when you got diamond certified instructor here in Nigeria? There was no need taking money away from Nigeria on this. I feel strongly about it. “
Mohammed acknowledged the concern raised by Atunwa. Onyejiocha who listened to the duo with rapt attention subsequently promised to provide more funds under the zonal intervention project to enhance NCAT activities.