The Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) on Thursday said it had taken over the operation of Nigeria’s largest domestic carrier, Arik Air.
Mr Jude Nwauzor, AMCON spokesperson, confirmed the development to newsmen in Lagos.
Nwauzor said the airline would now be managed by Capt. Roy Ilegbodu, an aviation expert under the receivership of Mr Oluseye Opasanya (SAN).
He said the government decided to intervene because Arik Air is immersed in heavy debt burden that was threatening to ground its operations.
“For some time now, the airline, which carries about 55 per cent of the load in the country, has been going through difficult times that are attributable to its bad corporate governance and erratic operational challenges.
“Others are inability to pay staff salaries and heavy debt burden among other issues, which led to the call for authorities in the country to intervene before the airline goes under like many before it,’’ he said.
Nwauzor said the move underscored government’s decision to instill sanity in the nation’s aviation sector.
According to him, the development will afford the airline to go back to regular and undisrupted operations, avoid job losses, protect investors and stakeholder funds as well as ensure safety and stability in the already challenged aviation sector.
Ilegbodu assured both staff of the troubled airline and all other stakeholders that his appointment at Arik would, among other objectives, enhance the value of the airline.
He said it would also improve customer experience and sustain the safety, reliability of the airline.
“As a matter of fact, Arik Air has been in a precarious situation largely attributable to its heavy financial debt burden, bad corporate governance, erratic operational challenges and other issues.
“This required immediate intervention in order to guarantee the continued survival of the Airline.
“Yesterday, Arik temporarily suspended its flight operations to the John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, United States, claiming that the two Airbus A330-200 aircraft dedicated to the route have been taken to France for C check at the same time.
“Equally more than eight aircraft are currently grounded at the tarmac making it difficult to meet their routine commercial flights,’’ Ilegbodu said.
The Minister of State for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, in another statement, said government believed that the take-over would eventually help the troubled airline.
Sirika said: “We believe that this takeover is timely and will stabilise the operations of the airline.
“This will enhance the long term economic value of Arik Air and revitalise the airline’s ailing operations as well as sustain safety standards, in view of the airline’s pivotal role in the Nigerian aviation sector,’’ he said.
The minister further pledged that the ministry would support the new management of the airline.
According to him, all necessary steps have been taken to ensure that there will be no undue disruption of the airline’s regular business operations or activities of stakeholders, on account of the recent changes in its leadership.
Meanwhile, the management of Arik Air has said it would challenge the take over by AMCON in court.
Capt. Ado Sanusi, Senior Vice President, Arik Air made, the disclosure at a joint news briefing with the newly appointed receiver Manager, Mr Oluseye Opasanya (SAN) and the airline’s technical consultant, Capt. Roy Ilegbodu.
Sanusi said the Arik Management had been served with a valid court order empowering AMCON to take over the affairs of the airline.
“As responsible citizens, we have obeyed the court order which appointed the Olaniwun Ajayi (SAN) as the receivership manager.
“We will comply but I want to make it clear that we have a right to challenge the court order.
“In the coming days, we will make our position known. It is a court order and we can challenge it and we will challenge it to the highest court of authority, ” Sanusi said.
He added that while the legal battle would be on one front, the parties had agreed that Arik Air would continue to run without any disruption.
Also speaking, Opasanya said AMCON was on a rescue mission to reposition the embattled airline.
Opasanya said :”AMCON has been a creditor to Arik for sometime. It also has security over substantial parts of the assets of Arik.
“The debt of Arik to AMCON has not been paid and huge sums of money is owed.
“So AMCON, having consulted widely with government authorities, has decided to appoint me to preside over the affairs of Arik.
“So we have come to supervise the operation, sustain the operation, improve services and ensure that we support Arik with people of deep knowledge, experience and commitment in the airline industry.”
According to him, Arik plays a pivotal role in the airline industry and many Nigerians are currently drawing their means of livelihood from the company.
“We have addressed the workers and the management and we want to assure other stakeholders and members of the public that the desire of AMCON is to keep the airline flying.
“AMCON is willing to support the operation of Arik and together with the government, work to meet the immediate essential needs of the company, “he said.
On his part, Ilegbodu said Arik had 28 aircraft in its fleet but only 10 are currently being used for operations.
He said his duty as technical consultant was to get to the root of the problems bedeviling the airline to ensure its sustainability.