FirstNation has officially been suspended from scheduled flight operations, existing only as a charter service, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has said. This development was announced by Muhtar Usman, the Director-General of NCAA at the agency’s headquarters at the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos. “…they are no longer into schedule service until they are able to meet the requirement for scheduled service.” he said.
According to Usman, there were two major reasons for this inevitable action by the NCAA. First, the airline was still in debt to the tune of N33.5 million in sanctions due as a result of safety negligence. This fine, imposed a few months ago on the airline was yet to be paid. However, the company’s suspension from scheduled flight operations would not shield it from paying the fine as the NCAA remain bent on collecting the fine.
Probably already anticipating the public’s reaction to this development, the NCAA boss was quick to reiterate that such measures were necessary to keep airlines in check.
“I will still reconfirm to you that whatever sanction we impose on any operator it’s in-line with Civil Regulation and it’s not punitive, but corrective. FirstNation was sanctioned, they appealed, the appeal, which was upheld. So, we are still working with them to pay the sanction. We don’t want to cripple any operations. If it is safety related, we will not waste time, but the payment is being worked out now.”
Another issue that led to their suspension was the number of aircraft the company had been running.
“Yes, they use one aircraft and they were on schedule services, but the present status now is that the certificate of the airworthiness of the status has been changed to non-schedule service, which is charter service.” Usman explained.
According to the regulations, no airline shall carry out scheduled commercial operation with only one aircraft, and the minimum acceptable number is three. Thus, the contravening of this regulation for about 9 months meant that the decision was inevitable.
This announcement comes in as a surprise of sorts considering that the airline’s commercial operations were suspended for the same reason September last year. However, the airline back then said that it’s A319 fleet was undergoing scheduled maintenance and would soon be back on board. The resumption of commercial scheduled flights by the airline would have convinced Nigerians that the situation had been remedied. However, with the statements of the NCAA chief, it was not as 9 months from August 2017 dates back to October 2016.
A third probable but unspoken reason why this decision come at this time is the re-assessment of the Nigerian aviation industry which the American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) just started. The presence of FirstNation on scheduled flights with its current predicaments, could dampen Nigeria’s ratings, which will in turn, have wide-spread effects on the aviation sector. Thus, the NCAA could have had one eye on this while making this decision.