FG Confirms Suspension of Dana Airline’s Flights; Aero Contractors issue sack letters to striking workers
The Federal Government, yesterday (March 17th, 2013), confirmed the suspension of operations of Dana Air in line with the demand by the National Assembly over the shoddy handling of the compensation claims to victims of the airline’s crash, which resulted in the death of over 160 people on board the plane and on the ground, in June last year. The suspension of Dana’s operations coincided with the decision by the management of Aero Contractors to issue sack letters to its workers who had embarked on a strike last week.
This is the second time in nine months that the Dana Air’s operating licence has been suspended by the Federal Government. Amidst complaints from the families of the victims, the Federal Government in January restored the airline’s operating licence, which allowed it to resume its domestic flights, an action that was vehemently opposed by the National Assembly. Confirming the story yesterday, the Special Assistant, Media to the Minister of Aviation, Joe Obi, said the airline “has been asked to suspend operations,” as against reports in some quarters that their operating licence was revoked. “The action was intended to enable proper sorting out of all the issues surrounding the June 3rd crash, including the compensation to the victims’ families,” Obi said.
Concerns mounted by the families of the victims ever since the restoration of the airline’s licence and the report of the joint ad-hoc committee on the investigation into the Dana crash resulted in the National Assembly recommending the removal of the former Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) boss Harold Demuren and the revocation of Dana Air’s operating licence.
However, there were concerns at the weekend that the airline’s operations might have been grounded by the NCAA over safety concerns in respect to one its flights. THISDAY gathered that the Aviation Minister, Ms Stella Oduah, was angry with the airline and NCAA when the pilot of one of Dana Air flights told passengers while airborne that the battery in the aircraft was losing power.
On learning that the airline might have had a problem with one of its batteries, the minister was incensed and attributed the carelessness to poor supervision by NCAA. She subsequently ordered that the airline should not operate until after the regulatory body had carried out a comprehensive inspection of the aircraft in Dana Air’s fleet and was assured of their airworthiness.
The minister, who also directed that a full report on the inspection should be made available to her, was said to have given the directive as a pre-emptive measure to ensure that there is no safety breach in the airline’s operations. In line with the directive, the airline cancelled its flights by Sunday, although it operated up till Saturday night to airlift its many passengers to their various destinations.
Dana Air, in a statement signed by its Head of Communication, Tony Usidamen said,
We regret to announce the temporary suspension of our flight operations following a directive from the Ministry of Aviation through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) on Saturday, 16th March, 2013. No specific reason was given for the action. A meeting is, however, scheduled between the management of Dana Air, the Ministry of Aviation and the NCAA on Monday 18th March and we will update you as we get more information.
We thank you for your patience and understanding, and we look forward to having the pleasure of welcoming you on board again shortly.
In a related development, another major carrier, Aero Contractors, started issuing sack letters to some of its workers who had embarked on a strike last week. Although this was not confirmed by the airline, THISDAY learnt from authoritative sources that some of the workers received their sack letters last weekend, and those being sacked were said to be members of the labour unions in the sector.
The airline had obtained a court injunction against the workers embarking on the strike, with a source saying that the acting Managing Director, Obaro Ibru, was reported to have sworn to an affidavit that there were suspected terrorists among the airline’s workers.
THISDAY learnt that the plan by the airline is to brow beat the workers psychologically so that when it resumes operations there would be very little resistance on their part.
The airline is estimated to have lost over N200 million since it suspended flights last Wednesday, with industry critics blaming the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) for instituting an inefficient management since its takeover of the airline. They contend that Aero was in a bad financial state and needed an experienced and knowledgeable chief executive officer to manage its operations.
Last Wednesday, Aero Contractors’ worker carried out their threat and downed tools demanding the sack of the company’s Head of Human Resources, Tope Fagbemi. The grouse of the workers was that Fagbemi was allegedly responsible for what they described as draconian policies introduced by the airline to outsource some of the jobs in the organisation. The outsourcing plan is said to have been a cost-cutting measure aimed at resurrecting the airline that was known to maximise its fleet operations, using fewer aircraft to fly on its domestic and sub-regional routes. Aero Contractors’ workers strike is believed to have forced the airline to temporarily suspend flights last week until a resolution of the crisis.
With Aero Contractors temporarily suspending flights and the withdrawal of Dana Air’s licence, this would leave passengers with the limited choice of Arik Air, Med View Airlines and IRS Airlines. However, it is only Arik that has capacity out of the three airlines. This will give rise to scramble for tickets and higher fares, which had fallen when Dana Air resumed flights a few months ago.