There are indications that the Federal Government may have decided to convert troubled Arik Air into the much anticipated national airline that the government plans to float by the end of this year.
A source close to government said the opportunity is here to realise that intention following the airline’s inability to pay over N300B indebtedness to the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) which necessitated the airline’s take-over.
Except the court stops it, the government may have seen a veritable platform to launch a new national airline, just as the erstwhile chairman of the carrier, Sir Arumeni Joseph-Ikhide has vowed to go to court to challenge the take-over of his airline.
The legal fireworks could however slow down the plan for the project this year except it receives speedy acceleration.
The N300b debts could be a stumbling block for the former owner to regain his company as other creditors like aviation oil companies, aircraft lessors and others could also head to court to get their money from the airline.
The government had four years ago had reached a pact with then owners of Aero Contractors to float a national carrier to be named Nigerian Eagle. To give vent to the idea, Aero’s B737-500 classic was painted with livery and new name-Nigeria Eagle.
The idea, championed by former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah hit a brick wall because of the way the project was shrouded in secrecy, with no clear cut agenda exactly what they wanted.
The project also lacked clear cut legal framework which made nonsense of the entire exercise before the Minister was unceremoniously removed from office.
Meanwhile, the new management of Arik Air, said the troubled airline would require N10 billion to resume its normal operations.
Managing Director of the airline, Capt. Roy Ukpebo Ilegbodu stated that the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) has discovered deep rooted rot at Arik Airlines, saying over N10 billion to fix rot before the largest local carrier would resume full and uninterrupted flight operations to its regular routes across the country and beyond.
The airline was on last Thursday taken over by the Federal Government under the auspices of AMCON as a result of a whooping debt profile of over N300billion.
He said the situation is so bad that only nine aircrafts out of the 30 in the fleet of the airlines is operational, stressing that 21 of them have either been grounded, gone for C-check in Europe among other forms of challenges.
As if these problems are not enough, he disclosed that the airline does not have money to procure aviation fuel for the nine operational aircraft because no dealer wants to sell aviation fuel to Arik if it is not on cash-and-carry basis.
He called for public understanding because flight schedules may be re-aligned based on the nine aircraft that are available, technically sound and ready for flight operation.
According to him, It was also discovered that Arik also owe its technical partners and also in perpetual default in its lease payments and insurance premium, leading to regular and embarrassing squabbles with different business partners, which accounts for why 21 aircraft is off the fleet for different reasons.”
“All these problems in addition to huge staff salaries, which have remained unpaid for 11 months; vendors that supply different items to Arik Airlines that are also owed meant that Nigerians may have to tarry-a-while to allow the new management clean up the huge mess at the airline before Arik would finally resume uninterrupted flight.