By Chinelo Obogo, Lagos
Aviation unions have alleged that there are plans to liquidate Aero Contractors and dispose of its assets.
At a press conference 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 phoney 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 the 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 is 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 30 years.
“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.
“To 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 phoney 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. So, who arranged such a murky lease and was it a deliberate ploy to bring the airline down?
“The question begging for answers is who are those so eager to see Aero gone and why? On this score, we note and question the rationale for seconding Mr Charles Johnson-Arumeme from Arik Air to Aero as Commercial Manager. Mr Johnson-Arumeme it was who drew up the schedule that granted Aero’s juicy routes to House of 5A’s.
“All these acts are clear cases of self-sabotage. This is as baffling as it is exasperating. We are bringing all these oddities to the fore so when we take action, we would not be told that it was unexpected and without consultation, as already we had cause to write the management of Aero on the issues enumerated without response.
“In recent times, we have witnessed attempts to provoke a reaction from the unions to withdraw services which would provide the basis for the company to be shut down. Salaries are being owed for upwards of two months. Conditions of Service have remained unilaterally suspended. Even last week, after the CEO fouled the industrial atmosphere with his shutting down press goof, he convened a staff town hall meeting with the plan to provoke unrest, knowing that workers have become restive. But, seeing through the plan, workers boycotted the meeting. Fortunately so far, in all these, the unions and workers have refused to take the bait.
“It would appear that the hidden forces are hell-bent on forcing a shutdown of Aero Contractors. Should they succeed, over 700 direct aviation jobs will go down the drain. A very solid aviation brand will become history.
“We would have been silent on Arik Air for now, but for the fact that the House of 5A’s lease arrangement that was chased out of Aero has found its way into Arik Air. As we understand, the new lease arrangement was to come into operation last Friday but got shelved.
“We can say authoritatively that, like in Aero, the House of 5A’s aircraft have been gifted Arik’s juicy routes of Lagos/Abuja/Lagos, Abuja/Port Harcourt/Abuja, and Abuja/Kano/Abuja based on the released schedule. As sure as night comes after day, Arik will surely soon run into financial trouble as to be unable to pay salaries,” they said.
Daily Sun reached out to the representative of Aero Contractors to react to the allegation but at the time of filing this report, there was no response.