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Azman Air suspension, depleted fleet cut off access to Northern states

By Wole Oyebade
16 September 2022   |   3:55 am
Air travellers commuting between North and Southern parts of the country are in for a fresh hurdle following the suspension of Azman Air and its attendant shutdown of operations, yesterday.

Azman Air

• Travellers stranded as NCAA suspends airline over N1.2b debt
• Local fleet capacity dips to 35 out of 98 

Air travellers commuting between North and Southern parts of the country are in for a fresh hurdle following the suspension of Azman Air and its attendant shutdown of operations, yesterday.

Withdrawal of the carrier, which has lately been the major link between Lagos and the two entry ports into the North – Kaduna and Kano – implies further reduction in air connectivity into the Northern region, with more travellers now forced to travel by road.
Besides the void in route connectivity, the withdrawal of operations has further dipped available capacity in the industry to less than 35 airplanes out of a total of 98.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), yesterday, suspended the Air Transport Licence (ATL) of Azman Air over its failure to remit N1.2 billion debt to regulators and service providers.
The apex regulator had earlier warned that any airline owing regulators and service providers would not have its ATL renewed when same expired. The NCAA had ordered airlines to begin repayment of debts in excess of N45.29 billion.
The impact of Azman Air suspension was immediately felt in the sector yesterday, as air travellers scheduled on the carrier were stranded in Lagos. The Guardian learnt that while the airline had notified crew and other staffers of the shutdown of operations effective September 15, it failed to notify booked passengers.
A travel operator sited at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Olasunkanmi Asekun, said the development came as a rude shock.
“I just booked a Lagos-Kaduna flight for a client overnight. There was nothing on their platform to notify of this development. The client only got here this morning to find the desk empty and someone saying they are no longer operating. What manner of service is that? The same airline still has its booking platform active for tomorrow’s flights. Honestly, I don’t understand what is going on,” he said.
Travel expert, Sunday Olumegbon, confirmed getting notification on the suspension of Azman operations. “I think it speaks volumes of the lingering problems that we have in the local sector. The Airline Operators had two months ago warned that three airlines would soon bite the dust. That prediction has come to fruition. I don’t know if more airlines will follow.
“The implication is going to be very severe across the network. Besides Air Peace and Max Air that occasionally operate Kaduna and Kano, Azman has been the most reliable airline between Lagos, Kaduna and Kano. They used to have at least two flights between Lagos-Kaduna and Lagos-Kano daily.
“It is the airline of most Northerners. From Kaduna and Kano, they have been accessing other routes like Bauchi, Kebbi, Yola, Gombe and Sokoto, where Aero Contractors used to operate. In the absence of Azman, the air travellers that have been avoiding road travel due to fear of kidnapping, will now be forced to travel to Abuja and connect other Northern cities by road. I honestly hope that the issue would be resolved very quickly. I doubt if this industry will be able to survive this for a week,” Olumegbon said.  
The implication is also severe on general capacity. The suspension brings the number of airlines that had withdrawn operations to three, after Aero Contractors and Dana Air.
Findings by The Guardian earlier showed that the eight active airlines were operating a cumulative 38.77 per cent fleet capacity, with a total of 60 out of 98 listed airplanes grounded, pending the availability of foreign exchange earnings to defray maintenance cost. The toll of grounded airplanes has increased to 63, leaving the sector with about 35 in active operations.
Director-General of the NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu, told reporters that Azman also failed to submit security clearance for the renewal of its ATL, which expired in April 2021.
Nuhu noted that the N1.2 billion debt was the revenue accrued from the five per cent Ticket Sales Charge (TSC) and Cargo Sales Charge (CSC) collected from air travellers by the airline.
The TSC/CSC is shared among five aviation agencies: NCAA, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET), and the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria. NCAA gets 58 per cent from the total five per cent of TSC/CSC and it is the major revenue earning for the agency, while the other four agencies share the remaining 42 per cent.
According to Nuhu, the regulatory agency had made efforts to recover the debt from the airline over the years, but the carrier was “recalcitrant in paying back the sum despite collecting it from the passengers.”
The DG explained that they had held a series of meetings with Azman leadership on how to pay the debt, but both parties failed to reach an agreement.
He said: “We didn’t suspend Azman Air’s AOC, but suspended their ATL, which had earlier expired. The ATL earlier expired in April 2021, but we gave the airline extension because of the disruption to aviation activities by the COVID-19 pandemic, just as we did for other airlines, too. However, we wrote a reminder letter to the airline six months to the new expiring date, which is statutory.
“Later, the airline requested for another extension of 90 days, but we only granted it 60 days and at the expiration of the 60 days, we also gave it a 30-day reminder, which elapsed on Wednesday night, yet nothing was done by the airline.
“Besides, the airline owes us N1.2 billion as TSC/CSC. We invited them, set up a committee for that purpose. Azman said they would pay the sum of N10 million monthly out of the debt, which we refused. They later came up to N20 million, but we insist on N50 million monthly. If we had agreed to the N10 million monthly, it would take them about 12 years to repay the money it had already collected and by then, the value would have been lost,” he said.
Nuhu further threatened that the ATL or AOC of any other airline that owed the agency five per cent TSC/CSC would not be renewed henceforth, and appealed to other carriers to pay up their backlog of debts.