Some commercial helicopters deployed for operations in and out of Abuja have remained stuck at the temporarily closed Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport for over a week. This is despite claims that the Federal Government has lifted the ban on their use around the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
It was learnt that as at Sunday morning, operators were still unable to move the choppers.Helicopter operators and other investors have continued to lose money days after the no-fly order was purportedly lifted. And while millions of dollars worth of aircraft are idling away, air travellers are still confined to hours of travel either by rail or road to reach Abuja from Kaduna International Airport.
The office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) penultimate Friday banned helicopter operations in Abuja, citing security concerns following the closure of the airport for runway repairs.
The Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, however, said that the ban had been lifted following reports on economic implications of such an order. But till yesterday, nothing appeared to have changed.
The Head of Operations of one of the airlines confirmed that they were yet to resume operations because “we still have our choppers in Abuja and they have not been released to fly.”
The director, who would not want to be mentioned, said the ban or no-ban order appeared to have been muddled up in controversy, such that operators really don’t know what to believe.
The President of the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Nogie Meggison, who has been at the forefront of negotiations for the reversal of the ban, confirmed that operations were yet to resume.
Meggison explained that the plan was to immediately have the stuck rotary wing aircraft freed for use following pronouncements that the ban had been lifted.“The latest, as I have been told, is that letters (on suspension of ban) were only sent out late Friday to airlines. Bristow flew today (Sunday). So, I’m hopeful that operations will fully resume this week and things will get better,” Meggison said.
A top-rated official at Bristow could only confirm a communication from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to resume operations, suggesting that the ban has been lifted. He was hopeful that Bristow would resume operations today.
A source close to the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said that the helicopters had been freed to operate, though restricted to only two helipads belonging to Julius Berger and Nigeria Customs, both in Abuja.
The source said the challenge might be lack of clearance on the customs’ helipad, but that of Julius Berger has been cleared for operations “from where Bristow ran its Abuja-Minna operations today (Sunday).”
It was reported that the operators were counting their losses in billions, with leased special-purpose helicopters worth $20 million each sitting idle in Lagos and Abuja, while operators continue to incur the cost of parking, crew and maintenance.
With the choppers unable to move, operators were forced to start refunding already booked shuttle and chartered services to their customers. The costs of a direct helicopter shuttle service from Lagos to Abuja went for between N150, 000 and N200, 000 per head. A similar flight on Kaduna-Abuja or Minna-Abuja route cost between N50, 000 and N100, 000. Charter services were booking in millions, it was learnt.