ARIK refocusses Nigeria – UK flights

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Arik Air

Arik Air

ARIK killed off (it said “suspended”) its direct Abuja to London’s Heathrow airport effective 25th March, issuing its notices on only 16th March.

The company says that it was “compelled” to take the decision in a spat over landing slots. ARIK had been allocated 14 of the available 21 “frequencies” for the Heathrow – Nigeria routes, seven each for Lagos and Abuja.

The UK says that “frequencies” are different to “slots” and that being allocated a “frequency” does not automatically give rights to a slot, says ARIK. But Nigeria takes the view that the two are co-existent and in practice are linked so closely as to be the same. That, says ARIK, means that UK airlines have been granted freedoms which Nigerian airlines have not.

As a result of the disparity, ARIK found itself having to lease slots from other airlines.

Dr Michael Arumemi-Ikhide, Group CEO/ President of Arik Air, said“Whilst it is regrettable to have to suspend our services between Abuja and London, we simply could not continue with the route due to the restrictions placed upon us in accessing arrival/ departure slots in to UK airports. It is an unfortunate situation and one that we felt was being resolved at government level and we hoped that an agreement would have been reached before the start of the summer schedule. Due to the stalemate we are therefore forced to suspend this route.”

On 22 March, ARIK announced that it was putting in place measures on its Lagos – Heathrow route to provide carriage for those passengers who would be inconvenienced by the loss of the Abuja – Heathrow route. It said “Passengers wishing to travel from Abuja to London can take advantage of the airline’s daily 7:15 am Abuja-Lagos flight for onward connection to the daily Lagos-London Heathrow service. The 7:00 am Lagos-Abuja service is also available for passengers arriving Lagos from London Heathrow early morning. Additionally, Arik Air has a shuttle service from the General Aviation Terminal to the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport for those connecting Lagos-London Heathrow from Abuja. [The] same service is also provided for Abuja-bound guests arriving Lagos from London Heathrow.”

It is not ARIK’s only recent problem: on 2nd March, ARIK suspended flights from Lagos to Johanesburg after South African immigration officers rejected as fake yellow fever vaccination certificates known as “yellow cards” issued in Nigeria. According to the airline “many were being detained and refused entry to the country in recent months.” The following day, the airline reached a compromise: passengers carrying new yellow cards which had not previously been accepted in South Africa would not be accepted onto flights and turned away at check in. Flights were resumed that day.

The airline began as a single-aircraft corporate jet business: Nigeria’s national airline collapsed in 2002 and Sir Arumemi-Ikhide bought a Hawker for his personal use but his business contacts kept borrowing it, so he bought a second one and started renting it out. Two years later, he formed Arik Air and set about creating a management team to start a new airline. It built a new headquarters from the ruins of the former Nigeria Airways HQ at Lagos airport and when it launched its first commercial flights with Bombadier CRJ900, it was the first new commercial airliner to be registered in Nigeria for more than 20 years. At first the airline operated domestically, then regionally and eventually – in 2008 – began services to London. It flies B737s to South Africa and the Airbus A340 to London.

And, amongst its fleet there are still the original two HS125s. That started it all.

But there have been rumours of financial problems circulating for the past 18 months. Rumours claimed that staff were not being paid on time, that aircraft were being returned to lessors “with large sums of money owed,” that supplier credit had dried up and ARIK being put on cash terms, that the whole fleet was grounded for several hours for non-payment of NCAA fees.

The most damaging story is about five cheques totalling N21,759, 201.00 which it admits were dishonoured on first presentation in September 2010. The airline said at the time that its account with Intercontinental Bank was well funded and there was no reason for the cheques to bounce. The story is that the bank, as part of its anti-fraud measures, tried to confirm the validity of the cheques with ARIK but for unspecified reasons was unable to do so. The bank therefore returned the cheques, as required by banking rules which prohibit holding onto them, asking the NCAA to re-present. But the NCAA appears to have a policy under which it does not re-present cheques. ARIK thinks the whole issue was nothing more than a communication breakdown.

All airlines operating in Nigeria are having a bizarre problem: early this month, a shortage of jet fuel meant that aircraft were delayed by as much as six hours while stocks were brought into Lagos airport. As the country’s largest airline, ARIK was said to have been worst affected. But some airlines were reportedly planning to make refuelling stops in Accra, Ghana where not only was fuel available but that it was significantly cheaper than in Nigeria.

Yesterday, PM News, a Nigerian website, claimed that ARIK had been taken over by AMCON, the state-backed investment company that has also been rescuing the financial sector by buying up bad debt.

However, the story, despite headlines being shown in links, has disappeared and neither AMCON nor ARIK have issued any statement about the story.

In : Business