Domestic and international airlines that use the services of the Nigeria Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCO) were forced to abruptly stop operation when the company’s workers failed to turn up to provide service to the airlines early Monday morning.
The airlines, which did not have prior notice, were told that the workers of the company embarked on strike over issues relating to their wages.
Passengers who turned up for early morning domestic flight service and passengers on international destinations became stranded as airlines stopped operation, waiting and hoping that there could be solution to the problem.
Nigeria’s major carrier Air Peace said it would lose about N500 million to flight cancellations, just as industry stakeholders condemned the strike.
Several flights that should emanate from the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), known as domestic terminal 1, where Arik Air and Air Peace operate most of their flights and the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal Two, (MMA2) Lagos were either being delayed or rescheduled.
International flights serviced by NAHCO that flew in early Monday morning to the Lagos airport departed with empty aircraft, losing huge amount of money in revenue.
One of such airlines was Qatar Airways, which arrived at the airport, discharged passengers and returned to its base without boarding hundreds of passengers waiting for the flight because NAHCO workers refused to service the plane.
Industry analyst and one of the passengers affected by the strike action, Alex Nwuba, said that NAHCO staff in the early hours of Monday walked out of international airport, saying they were on strike and would not handle any passenger.
“Even the Qatar flight I’m traveling with this morning landed and has returned to Doha as there was no one to handle the flight,” Nwuba said.
He said passengers were frustrated as they have been kept outside to avoid a crisis and no information, announcements or emails was sent to passengers.
In one of the messages by Air Peace to its passengers, it explained that due to NAHCO strike, its flight schedule had changed.
“Your 6:15am flight, P47420, Lagos to Kano for today, 23rd January, 2023 will now depart at 10:00am. We honestly understand the resulting consequence and regret the effect of this unexpected time change on your travel plans. Please bear with us,” Air Peace stated.
A source at NAHCO disclosed that the management had met with the staff on Sunday over the proposed strike and there was court injunction against the strike, which the workers defied and laid down their tools.
The Managing Director and CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi disclosed to THISDAY that as NAHCO workers were on strike the airline sought to get jet starter (equipment for starting aircraft) from Skyway Aviation Handing Company Plc (SAHCOL) but the company refused and said that the alliance it has with NAHCO and other handling companies bars airlines from seeking service of any member that is not officially the handling company of that airline.
Sanusi described it as callous, pseudo-monopoly, which should not be encouraged in a free, deregulated market.
“This unfortunate strike action has caused the country a lot of hardship, including airlines and passengers and has put Nigeria in a bad light in the international aviation circles. This calls for the review of what was recently granted the handing companies by the National Assembly and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), which in addition to increasing the cost of their services allowed then an alliance that enables them to operate like a cartel.
“If other service providers, including the airline take a cue from that and start operating like a cartel the aviation industry will die. This is a deregulated free market and that policy must be protected to allow for competition and for other investors who would want to go to aviation handling company to join the market. This is also a warning to address this cartel situation,” Sanusi stated
Spokesman of Air Peace, Stanley Olise disclosed to THISDAY that the airline would lose N500 million and lamented that neither the company nor the unions informed the airlines about the impending strike and noted that Qatar Airways had to depart Lagos this morning with empty plane because they were not informed about the strike. It is the same with domestic airlines. They did not have any clue that those NAHCO workers would embark on strike.
“The action of NAHCO workers is bad because they did not give us any notice. Air Peace is losing N500 million due to cancellation of flights. We even heard that there was a court injunction to stop the strike but the workers defied it. Their action has damaged the image of Nigeria. Do you know how much it will cost Qatar Airways to come to Nigeria and return to Doha wit empty plane?” he asked.
He also disclosed that Air Peace sought assistance from SAHCOL but the company refused because of the agreement the handing companies have, which industry stakeholders described as anti-competitive.
Industry source described the strike as outright sabotage for the striking workers to ignore the court injunction that directed that they should not embark on any industrial action.