By Bimbola Oyesola and Chinelo Obogo
Aviation unions have alleged that there are plans to liquidate Aero Contractors and dispose it of its assets.
At a press briefing in Lagos on Monday, the Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) also accused the management of the airline of planning to cut down its staff strength by 40 per cent without first negotiating terms of redundancy despite its inability to complete redundancy payment of those it asked to stay home since 2016.
The General Secretary of NUATE, Ocheme Aba, and Deputy General Secretary ATSSSAN, Frances Akinjole, who addressed the press, appealed to the National Assembly, Ministers of Aviation and Labour and Employment to initiate an intervention that could save the airline.
The unions said it is untrue that Aero aircraft are too old to fly, saying the claims were made to compel the airline out of existence despite owning a Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility. The unions alleged that the airline signed a phony lease contract which operated at a total loss as only three seats out of a 180-seater aircraft at N35,000 each was given to the airline, while the rest went to the financier no matter the category of fare charged.
The unions also questioned the rationale behind seconding one Mr. Charles Johnson Arumeme from Arik to Aero, whom they say was responsible for drawing up the lease contract which negatively affected the airline’s revenue and caused it to owe staff for up to three months.
“The CEO’s assertion that Aero’s planes are too old to fly are completely false, even if aided by internal misinformation. The fact as we know it is that Aero operates the B737 Classic generation, the oldest of which just clocked 30years.
“This class of aircraft are able to operate up to 85,000 cycles, or 100,000 flight hours as approved by the manufacturer, Boeing. None of these aircraft in Aero’s fleet has operated up to half of the approved figures. We stand to be proved wrong. While it is true that older aircraft do have higher maintenance costs, it must be borne in mind that the airline owns an approved MRO with elite engineers in its fold.
“Till date, there is no report from the MRO, or the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) that any aircraft operated by Aero is too old to be maintained, or to fly.
“The same forces engineered the phony lease contract with House of 5A’s by which Aero was given only three seats in a 180-seater Airbus at a fixed price of N35,000 per seat. Whereas the contract was for the purpose of expanding the airline’s network, the leased aircraft somehow supplanted all Aero aircraft on its juicy routes, pushing Aero aircraft to fringe routes with limited passenger intakes.
For the period that the lease lasted, Aero Contractors was essentially working for House of 5A’s, as the lessor was making more money than the airline itself.
“No wonder the airline ran itself into deep financial crisis and began to owe salaries unprecedentedly. But for the intervention of the unions which threatened to direct workers to withdraw services to the leased aircraft, Aero would still have been under the bondage of the House of 5A’s contract.