Staffers and shareholders of Med-View Airlines Plc may be in for more difficult times, as the airline has shut down flight operations.
The blackout, as observed Monday, was not unconnected with the airline’s only operating aircraft, B737-500, suddenly going out-of-service.
The development has, however, thrown some workers into panic mode as they groan over harsh realities due to an unpaid salary that varies between three months and one year.
The management of the airline told The Guardian that the “downtime” was temporary, as the technical issues were due to be resolved for operations to resume shortly.
Med-View is the only local commercial operator on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). But the airline has lately been in dire straits, posting at its last July annual general meeting a record after-tax loss of N10.33 billion, a 293 per cent drop from 2017 profit.
The management, at the stormy Y2018 meeting in Lagos, pleaded with stakeholders to bear with the zero dividend declared, as it assured that fortunes would soon improve when three aircraft on routine C-checks returned to operations.
Recall that the airline pulled out of the London Gatwick and Dubai routes last year after a brief stint in the international market, citing harsh local operating environment, aircraft leasing programme that went awry and aggressive aeropolitics.
The workers are also feeling the pinch. Between November 2017 and June 2018, the airline laid off a huge chunk of its workforce especially the outstation offices.
The surviving workforce is now alleging unpaid salary against the management. Sources disclosed that the airline last paid crewmember last March, while pilots are owed six months. Other categories of workers are owed for as much one year.
“We no longer have regular staff captains, but captains on contract. That is what they can afford,” an inside source said.
A member of the crew, who preferred anonymity, said they had been off duty since last week, “but for me, it is good radiance to bad rubbish.”
“The essence of working is to earn a living but when such efforts are jettisoned by management that deliberately denies the workers of their wages, life becomes the cheapest commodity without value.
“The survival of the airline is anchored on the only existing serviceable Boeing 737-500 deplored to service her Abuja route, which is not enough commitment to pay a workforce with a reduced staff strength following series of retrenchment.
“Today, no staff of the airline can pride themselves of paying their children’s school fees as their children and wards are constantly been harassed and driven from school.
“Many of these staff have resorted to signing a series of undertaking to allow their wards the chance to study in schools. My question is that, for how long can these undertakings be signed by these parents without hope of paying anytime soon?”
Another worker said they trusted the management for so long but lately got fed up after several failed promises.
The staff explained that the Chief Executive Officer had in a parley last January, pledged to pay up the accumulated salary.
The recommendation submitted observed that 50 per cent of April to September salary would be paid as an addition to a full salary from October upward.
“Nothing of such was implemented; rather we saw a payment plan that we were paid half month salaries. But where is that done?”
The airline is estimated to owe sacked and existing workers over N1.5billion in salary arrears, pension, and other entitlements.
Top official of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), observed that the airline has for some months operated an airplane for commercial services, contrary to the minimum of two mandated by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations.
“Yes, our rules say two aircraft minimum but we do allow one aircraft with some service conditions. An airline that is grounded cannot pay salary or service debt.
“This airline in question is heavily indebted to NCAA. They used to pay promptly before but along the line, they started to owe. That explains some of the concession granted but on the unpaid salary claims, we will look into it.”
Spokesperson of the NCAA, Sam Adurogboye, said the apex regulator was aware of the alleged outstanding and it was investigated between June and July this year.
Adurogboye said the airline was summoned but both management and selected workers came forward with evidence of payment, which made it difficult for NCAA to probe further.
The Chief Accountable Officer of the airline, Michael Ajigbotosho, didn’t deny the outstanding claims, citing good relationship and understanding between the parties.
Ajigbotosho added that the operating aircraft had technical issues that are currently been addressed.
“Our workers are part of the family. None of them is complaining. If there are complaints, they are from outside. We are having downtime but we will be back shortly,” he said.
CEO of the airline, Muneer Bankole, had recently assured the stakeholders that the airline was restrategising its fleet operations to return to prominence on the local front.
Bankole said: “We have three classic aircraft that were all due for C-check at the same time. One is in Israel, another in Estonia and third was flying, but we got the money from the bank to put the second aircraft to use and so, it had been taken to Aero Maintenance base. I assure you that the third aircraft would soon be on the ground, because the domestic operation is our major market.
“We promise to do more than expected. Expect beautiful operations when the three aircraft get fully operational soon and each aircraft would be yielding about N376 million monthly. We also assure you that we will not lease aircraft, as we are working with a strategic partner in order to get a new aircraft into our fleet.”
By Wole Oyebade