Airlines in volte-face, call off strike

Airline operators under the umbrella of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) made a volte-face as they unanimously agreed to suspend the withdrawal of services originally planned to begin tomorrow.

The airlines had on Friday night issued a threat to down tools over the astronomical rise in the price of Jet A1 otherwise known as aviation fuel.

The airlines that threatened to shut operations are Dana, Azman, Arik, Air Peace, Dana Air, United Nigeria Airline, Overland Airways, and Aero Contractor.

According to them, while aviation fuel costs about 40 per cent of an airline’s operating cost globally, the present hike has shut up Nigeria’s operating cost to about 95 per cent.


Nigerian airlines

In a  statement on Friday and a copy made available to journalists the president of AON, Abdulmunaf Yunusa Sarina, said they could not absorb the hike in sudden cost anymore.

“Over time, aviation fuel price (JetA1) has risen from N190 per litre to N700 currently. No airline in the world can absorb this kind of sudden shock from such an astronomical rise over a short period. While aviation fuel worldwide is said to cost about 40% of an airline’s operating cost globally, the present hike has shut up Nigeria’s operating cost to about 95%.”

According to AON, the cost of a seat on a plane is N120,000 due to the rising cost of Jet A1 in the country.

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“In the face of this, airlines have engaged the Federal Government, the National Assembly, NNPC, and Oil Marketers with the view to bringing the cost of JetA1 down which has currently made the unit cost per seat for a one hour flight in Nigeria today to an average of N120,000. The latter cannot be fully passed to passengers who are already experiencing a lot of difficulties.”

Indications that the threat by the carriers to cripple the aviation sector would not go on as planned as the carriers, one after the other made a U-turn by announcing their withdrawal from the much-publicized strike action.

There was a crack in the wall of AON as Arik, Overland Airways, Aero Contractors, Ibom Air and Dana declined to withdraw their services.

Sensing that five out of the nine carriers had declined to join Monday strike action, the AON had no option but to call off the strike, hinging its decision on a call from the Federal Government to suspend, “Action in good fate”.

In a statement jointly signed by all the operators,  the AON said, “The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) wishes to inform the general public that further to numerous calls from the highest echelons in government with promises to urgently intervene in the crises being faced by airlines due to the astronomic and continuously rising cost of JetA1, that the AON has acceded to requests to withdraw the action for the time being while we allow for a fresh round of dialogue with the government in the hope of reaching an amicable solution”.

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“We have also reached this decision with the highest consideration for our esteemed customers who have been faced with uncertainty over the last few days and to enable them to have access to travel to their various destinations for the time being during the period of discussions with relevant authorities”.

“In view of the above and in the interest of national economy and security considerations, AON hereby wishes to notify the general public that the earlier announced shutdown of operations on May 9, 2022, is hereby suspended in good fate pending the outcome of hopefully fruitful engagement with the government”.

Confusion yesterday pervaded the Nigerian aviation sector as to whether or not airline operators would make good their threat to down tools on Monday over the skyrocketing price of Jet A1 to N700 per litre.

In order not to be caught stranded, not a few rushed to cancel their trips while many companies were frantically working on cancelling or rescheduling meetings, seminars and other programmes slated for this week.

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At the Murtala Muhammed Airport 2 (MMA2), many were seen cancelling their bookings while others are asking for a refund. Some airlines were seen asking them to fill out forms with plans to refund.


Nigerian airlines

A travel expert who spoke to Aviation Metric under strict conditions of anonymity said the withdrawal of services by the carriers would have had serious negative consequences on both the economy and the carriers which precarious situation could lead to premature collapse.

He disclosed that many of the country’s airlines are living on ‘borrowed’ times considering their fragile situation which had been worsened by a scarcity of Forex, high-interest rates, multiple taxations and high cost of aviation fuel that makes operations unsustainable.

Our correspondent learnt that both the National Assembly and other highly placed government officials were said to have mounted pressure on the carriers, leading to some of them rescinding their decisions while more are still undecided on the position their earlier took.

Wole Shadare