Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, has countered the comments by the former minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, about the airline.
Onyema said Sirika spewed falsehood against the company and the entire domestic airlines while attempting to deceive the nation about his handling of the Nigeria Air project.
Prime Business Africa reports that the former minister had while speaking in an interview on Arise News TV Channel on Sunday, to clear the air on the controversies surrounding the unveiling of the new national carrier, Nigeria Air, 48 hours before his exit, alleged that local airlines lack capacity.
He made the assertion while trying to explain why the Federal government opted for Ethiopian Airlines after it emerged as the highest bidder.
Sirika specifically alleged that Air Peace had some time in the past incurred losses of $19 million when it leased two Boeing 777 aircraft on a monthly fee of $250,000 and packed them for several months.
However, reacting to the allegation, Onyema, who appeared on Arise News TV on Wednesday, said Air Peace never got aircraft on lease from anybody or company, adding that the ex-minister was simply out to damage the image of the airline.
He said Air Peace has three and not two Boeing 777 aircraft which were never leased or rented but purchased outrightly by the airline.
Onyema said no aircraft comes into the country without the approval of the minister of aviation and wondered why Sirika, who signed the approval for the airline to procure the aircraft came out to say it leased them.
“It is quite unfortunate for an ex-minister of aviation to come out and say indirectly or directly that the airline he is supervising is so incompetent… and he was spreading falsehood barefacedly, speaking as a matter of fact that it happened. Imagine the damage this minister has done to the image and reputation of Air Peace with what he has done. He was just spreading falsehood,” Onyema stated.
Continuing he said: “To start with, Air Peace doesn’t have two triple-7 (Boeing 777), Air Peace has three and those three were outrightly purchased… they were outrightly purchased by Air Peace. Therefore, we never paid for or rented aircraft from anybody. We never incurred any loss as a result of the lease. In the first place, you can’t even use $250,000 to rent triple-7,” he stated.
“This is a minister trying to fool the entire nation. He is in a desperate bid to fool everybody, hoodwink the nation. Since he is spreading falsehood against Air Peace, how do we as a nation believe every other thing he was saying? The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority is there, you can contact them, and they are the regulators. He was in charge; he signed the import permit for those aircraft. You cannot import any aircraft into the country without the minister of aviation approving it. He must be the one to sign the importation permit. So, he did all that and he knew quite well that those planes were not leased. They were not rented, but fully paid for.”
He said the ex-minister made his comment to ruin their reputation while at the same time praising Ethiopian Airlines, his partner in the Nigeria Air project.
The Air Peace boss pointed out that the domestic airlines were not against the emergence of Nigeria Air, but wanted due process to be followed in birthing the national carrier.
He added that all the airlines, under the aegis of the Airline Association of Nigeria (AON), want is for the government to provide a platform for ease of doing business so that investors can come in and boost the country’s aviation industry.
He said the idea of having a national carrier, considering the nature of the modern economy globally, has become moribund as many countries no longer do so because it drains resources. He said what many countries now do is support private airlines as flag carriers, not floating national carriers.
He also faulted the claim by Sirika that Air Peace stopped flying to Dubai because of incapacity. According to him, Air Peace stopped flying to Dubai last year because United Arab Emirates (UAE) stopped issuing visas to Nigerians which affected passenger traffic. He added that even Emirates Airlines has stopped plying Nigerian route since then.
He further stated that the ex-minister’s claim that the indigenous airlines lack capacity, was a ploy to de-market them and deceptively prove why he chose to partner with Ethiopia Airlines in the Nigeria Air project.
Onyema said that contrary to what the ex-minister said about the bidding process for Nigeria Air, Nigerian stakeholders were sidelined as everything was shrouded in secrecy.
He further expressed surprise on why the ex-minister would say that the airline lacked capacity given its past gestures in evacuating stranded Nigerians from different parts of the world, coupled with the current size of its fleet.
On the court order restraining the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) from issuing Air Operating Certificate (AOC) to Nigeria Air, Onyema said the order has not been vacated.
He argued that what was done during the purported unveiling of Nigeria Air on 26 May was clearly contemptuous.
He also said that aviation authorities in the country have not been playing significant roles in supporting Nigerian airlines on Bilateral Air Space Agreement (BASA) as they found it difficult to get designations in some countries, especially some of them he described as “low–hanging fruits” in airline business.
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