Managing Director/CEO of Air Peace Limited, Mr. Allen Onyema, has decried the rise in passenger attacks on airline staff and assets in recent weeks at some local airports, saying the trend poses serious threats to the safety of airline operations in the country.
Onyema, who stated this at a press conference in Lagos, also disclosed the loss of over N3 billion due to damages to some aircraft parts at the Lagos and Benin airports, which had also led to the grounding of the affected aircraft and the attendant flight cancellations and delays.
Said Onyema: “We lost three aircraft in one day; two of them in Lagos when there was a collision that destroyed the winglet of these aircraft, and the other incident happened in Benin airport when Sahcol (a ground handling company) damaged that aircraft.
“We had to ground these aircraft and look for how to fix them. In fact, we have lost over N3 billion in our operations. We had 24 flights affected and we had to plan in 24 hours how to solve this problem. It was not our making as this meant we had to reschedule or even cancel some flights and also make provisions to entertain the affected passengers at various airports.”
Onyema said the delays and cancellation of flights had angered some passengers who resorted to molesting staff and destroying some facilities.
He said, “they abused our staff verbally, they beat up one of our elderly staff and stripped him naked and destroyed our facilities. They entered into the airside of an airport and stopped a flight from taking off in protest. This is what we now face from unruly and violent passengers who want to fly at all cost whenever flights are cancelled or delayed. It is not done anywhere in the world. Passengers misbehaving this way around an aircraft poses a threat to the aircraft because anyone among them can throw something and sabotage the aircraft. It is time the government takes steps to protect airlines and staff so it doesn’t lead to self-defence by airlines,” he added.
The Air Peace boss also demanded that the government puts an end to the sale and consumption of alcohol inside airport premises, saying some of the actions of the unruly passengers were as a result of intoxication. He also demanded that the government should set up a commitee to review the various taxes paid by airlines to various airports and regulatory agencies as the multiple taxation regime, when combined with the high cost of aviation fuel, was posing a serious threat to the survival of airlines in the country.
Onyema also said local airlines were having difficulties reciprocating some routes within the West African sub-region under the Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) signed by the Federal Government with those countries. He cited Cameroon, Togo and Cote d’Ivoire as some of the countries frustrating Air Peace from flying into their countries through various bureaucratic bottlenecks and he promised to challenge their actions in Nigerian courts.