An air of panic and confusion reigned amongst passengers at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal popularly called (MMA2), following the news of the suspension of scheduled flight operations by Aero Contractor Airlines effective Thursday September 1, 2016. Sadly, the airline rather than wait till the September 1 (Thursday) to halt it’s operation, had decided to cancel some of its scheduled flights out of the Lagos airport on Wednesday (the day of the announcement) thus forcing most passengers into a state of anger and an immediate rush to any available Aero counter at the airport for refunds on already purchased tickets.
It was learnt that it was the same frustrating experience for passengers at some of the other airports where Aero operates into.
An industry official said in Abuja and Port Harcourt airports most passengers were equally left stranded by the airline. It was also learnt that over 1,400 staff of the airline could lose their jobs should the airline fail to make a quick comeback to the sky. The airline and workers union it was also learnt were meeting late Wednesday to fashion out modalities on how to handle the plight of the workers likely to be affected by the exit of the airline.
At the airline’s counters at MMA2 in Lagos at about 2.30 pm, Aero staff had abandoned the entire check –in and ticket counters and passengers who had come to get boarding passes for scheduled flights for the dat were left to their fate .
Specifically, passengers, who had come to board flights to Port Harcourt and Abuja at 12noon, were shocked to note that their fights had been cancelled without any official communication from the airline. But for some other passengers, they even got to realise that their flights had been cancelled after having successfully checked –in their luggage and collected their boarding passes in preparation for boarding. That was how chaotic the scene was at the Lagos airport.
One of such affected passengers, who gave her name as Grace said she felt so frustrated with the speedily termination of flights scheduled for Wednesday when the airline had announced Thursday as closure date. Grace said she would take her case to the Consumer Protection unit of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to compel Aero to compensate her.
“How do I get my luggage and go back home now. I don’t know anywhere and it was my relations who dropped me this morning at the airport and they left immediately .Now my luggage has been checked –in, how do I collect my luggage,” She complained to journalists. About 100 other passengers, who had also checked-in their luggage for the Abuja and Port Harcourt flights were seen making efforts to reclaim their checked in luggage. An official of Aero told Newsmen that the airline would refund monies to all passengers who had bought tickets prior to the suspension of the airlines services. Meanwhile Stakeholders in Nigeria’s aviation sector yesterday expressed shock and disappointment following the shut down of Aero Contractors noting that the exit of the airline would have dire consequences on its teeming passengers, staff of the airline, the Nigerian aviation industry, regulatory and service providers, as well as the larger economy. Most analysts agreed that fares would go up, especially on those routes were Aero was the plying either as the leading or second most important carrier in terms of number of passengers carried every day. Renowned aviation analyst, Mr. Chris Aligbe who spoke with Newmen said “the indefinite suspension announced by Aero Contractors tells a very sad story about the state of the Nigerian aviation sector today.”. “This is a very sad day for the aviation industry and for numerous flyers and patronizes of the Aero Contractor brand. This is one of the longest serving local carriers and I pity the staff who had worked all their lives in this airline hoping it will bounce back to life.” Aligbe however expressed the fear that if urgent steps were not taken by the Feder Government to address the numerous challenges facing the domestic airline industry, there were other existing airlines which may go down the way Aero Contractors did. “Airlines are faced with multiple taxation, fuel and forex scarcity or even it’s high cost. The government is asking the agencies to recover debts. What is going on is like a killer virus and I am afraid other airlines may go the way of Aero,” Aligbe said. Secretary General of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Mr. Olayinka Abioye who also spoke with Newsmen blamed the tragic demise of Aero on “the reckless and poor management of its management.”. “We sympathies with about 467 workers already penciled down for disengagement by the airline. Aero’s problems had nothing to do with the staff, but with the management and the Ibru family who for years owned a majority equity in the airline before AMCON took over,” said Abioye.
“Today, it is a very sad day for labour if AMCON which took over this airline could not make it work well for the industry. What has now happens make it imperative for the federal government to come to the rescue of all ailing airlines by compelling the CBN through AMCON to re-fleet the airlines,” he added.
Uto John, who said she’s a frequent flyer on Aero lamented the plight of the airline imploring the government and other relevant agencies to wade into the issues that forced the airline’s suspension and see how best to assist it resuscitate within the shortest possible time.
“I have been in tears since I heard the news of Aero suspening it’s scheduled operations. I have been flying the airline for the past seven years to different destinations in Nigeria. And I can’t imagine it’s gone. It gives me the ease of comfort and safety and the fares usually come so cheap when I buy online. I am appealing to the government not to allow this airline die,” John added.