Arik Faces Maintenance Challenges over Paucity of Funds
By Chinedu Eze
Nigeria’s biggest carrier, Arik Air, is facing maintenance and safety challenges as it has failed to ferry its aircraft that are due for various categories of checks overseas for maintenance.
Last week, one of the two engines of its aircraft, Boeing 737-800 shut down while it was about to land at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, prompting the pilot in command to call for May Day (emergency).
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) confirmed the incident and said it had handed it over to the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) for further investigation.
THISDAY investigations revealed that out of nine aircraft due for maintenance, the company was able to take one to Maintenance Overhaul and Repair (MRO) facility in Lithuania and last week, inspectors had travelled to the facility to inspect it and it is expected to return to Nigeria today or tomorrow.
Before the aircraft was ferried out for maintenance, THISDAY gathered that NCAA had given the airline three extensions after it was due for checks and the engineers who worked on the aircraft at the repair facility discovered corrosion when they opened the aircraft.
Inside sources told THISDAY that before Arik was taken over by Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) in February, world renowned Lufthansa Technik was maintaining the aircraft and the airline was taking its fleet to well-known MRO facilities in Europe; albeit at relatively higher cost, but due to paucity of funds, the new management of the airline had to take it to the Lithuania facility, where the cost is relatively cheaper.
But a source from the airline who confirmed the engine shut down incident last week, told THISDAY that the maintenance facility in Lithuania had the approval of NCAA and there was no way the airline could take its aircraft to maintenance facilities that were not approved by the regulatory authority.
The informed source said Arik wanted to renegotiate the agreement with Lufthansa Technik but the German company offered its service at a quotation the new management felt it could not afford and before contacting Lufthansa, the management had considered taking the aircraft to Ethiopia Airlines and Egypt Air maintenance facilities in Addis Ababa and Cairo respectively.
Before now, Arik Air maintained a very high safety record and few months after AMCON took over the management of the airline, it had significantly improved its on-time performance, but due to paucity of funds and the failure of the federal government to continue to support the airline financially, the airline is facing the current maintenance challenges.
THISDAY learnt that the Ministry of Transportation had directed NCAA to support Arik and relax stringent measures for the airline in order to help it to operate, hence the alleged three extensions given to the airline when its aircraft were due for maintenance.
But the spokesman of NCAA, Sam Adurogboye, told THISDAY that government had never interfered on issues that border on safety in NCAA; therefore, such directive could not have changed anything because if Arik compromised on safety it would still be given the appropriate sanctions.
He said: “There is no question of protecting Arik. Nigeria obtained US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Category One Safety Status and during the audit, Arik was used. FAA officials are due to visit soon and they may request to use Arik again, so we cannot afford to compromise our standards. We cannot allow anything outside the rules, no matter who is involved or what airline that is involved.
“As far as the MRO is shortlisted in our AMO (Approved Maintenance Organisation) the MRO facility in Lithuania is qualified to maintain the Arik aircraft. On the engine shut down incident; may be, the pilot decided to take a precautionary measure that was why he called for May Day, which is the right thing to do. But I wish to say that there has never been any Minister or any directive from the Presidency that has ever interfered with our safety measures and standards,” he clarified.