Thursday, October 8, 2015 6:05 pm
Arik Air is undoubtedly Nigeria’s biggest carrier, boasting about 150 flights on a daily basis. It also has the largest fleet of aircraft. But while it holds its head high as the biggest player, its size has come with the equally big headache of battling with the payment of the huge debt it owes the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA. Before the airline began to make attempts to service its debt recently, it was owing NCAA as much as N5 billion. Arik, And indeed all the other domestic carriers, have consistently been unwilling to abide by the pact reached with the aviation watchdog concerning the remittance of 5% Ticket Sales Charge, TSC and Cargo Sales Charge , CSC to the agency’s coffers.
Cap. Mukhtar Usman, the Director General of the NCAA, warned debtor airlines in August that their names and the amount owed would be published for all to see, giving a two week ultimatum before sanctions would be enforced. But the threat bounced off the airlines which were emboldened by the fact that their recalcitrance in the past was not checked by stiff sanctions to drive home the resolve of the NCAA.
This time around however, after issuing the threat to the airlines, the NCAA decided to approach the issue differently by thinking up a foolproof measure to ensure that operators would henceforth be unable to withhold payments. “What we have done to help our financial situation is to introduce the ‘pay as you go’ system which means that when an operator applies for any of our services, including inspection, certification and validation of licenses, which carry statutory fees, they must pay before these services are rendered’’, says Sam Adurogboye, the NCAA Spokesperson.
The move has yielded positive results for the agency whose coffer is gradually swelling. And for the management of the debtor airlines, the realisation that payment for services can no longer be delayed in this dispensation has set in. TheNEWS gathered that JIA Arumemi-Ikhide, Chairman of Arik Air, has now deemed it a priority to be present at meetings held by the Aviation Round Table, to ensure that he is kept within the loop when matters that can affect the fate of airlines are being deliberated upon. His attempts to seek for waivers concerning the payment of his huge debts allegedly hit a brick wall when he recently tabled the plight of his airline before President Muhammadu Buhari who told him that Arik must now begin to pick up its past bills while also ensuring that the airline conforms with the current demand by the NCAA of payment before service.
Adurogboye emphasized that the 5% TSC and CSC does not belong to the airlines in the first place. ‘’The 5% ticket sales is a percentage that is put on top of whatever air fare they are charging the passengers, and this came to be as a consensus at a stakeholders conference some years ago. The old NCAA collected the money itself from passengers directly in the past, but the stakeholders (airlines) agreed that they would collect it on NCAA’S behalf to enhance passenger facilitation at the airport,’’ he said. The NCAA Spokesperson added that rather than comply with the arrangement, once the money is received by the airlines, it is expended on other demands while the debt figures continues to rise.
The NCAA had earlier attempted to ground the operations of Arik over non- payment of its huge debt. But on the day the move was made it was eventually aborted since it led to protests by passengers who were stranded at the airports because majority of them would have boarded Arik flights to their destinations. Arik also enjoyed the backing of the Presidency at the period, and the NCAA, despite being an autonomous agency, had to bow to pressure from the two fronts.
However, while it contends with its debt burden, Arik has succeeded in building up a strong domestic network covering mainly Nigerian and several other West African destinations. The airline’s fleet includes two Airbus A330-200, nine Boeing 737-700, four Boeing 737-800, four Bombardier CRJ 900, one Bombardier CRJ 1000 and four Bombardier Dash 8 Q400.