It was a chaotic scene at Murtala Muhammed Airport terminal 2 (MMA2), Lagos, yesterday, as scores of Dana Air’s customers went irate over the abrupt closure of the airline.
The travellers that had arrived early for check-in lamented that the Dana section was deserted for hours and booked passengers unattended.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), late Wednesday, suspended the airline’s operations indefinitely over its alleged inability to run safe operations.
The move, following an investigation by the apex regulatory body, saw to the immediate withdrawal of the airline’s Air Transport Licence (ATL) and Air Operator Certificate (AOC) indefinitely, with effect from midnight of Wednesday, July 20.
The suspension of Dana comes after the country’s oldest carrier, Aero Contractors, suspended scheduled flight operations. With the suspension of Dana Air, all its domestic flight services would be on hold pending the lifting of the suspension.
Some of the stranded passengers, who claimed not to have received the airline’s notification of suspension of operations, demanded an immediate refund of their airfares or alternative airline seats when staffers later showed up.
Apparently uninterested in explanations on refund protocols, tempers flared as some protesters went unruly, rough-handling officials and attacked the airline’s booking office.
One of the affected passengers said only a refund would appease her agony. “I just want my money back; that is all. I spent my all to buy this ticket yesterday to keep up with a very important appointment. The airline knows that it will not fly, why did they sell expensive tickets? Just give me my money,” she charged at an official.
Another traveller, Adams Iroh, confirmed receiving the airline’s message on suspension of flights, just on his way to the airport.
“I was confused at first. I later learnt it was due to safety issues, which is understandable. But I believe that there should be a better arrangement for affected passengers. It is not enough to stop airlines that are suspect, what of the booked travellers? Nobody is saying anything yet, which makes it the most annoying. This whole confusion is avoidable,” Iroh said.
Airlines have in recent times been faced with dire economic straits over the galloping price of aviation fuel known as Jet A1, which is almost hitting N900 per litre.
This is worsened by the high foreign exchange with one dollar exchanging for N645 at the parallel market, making it impossible for Airlines to carry out their scheduled maintenance.
Prior to the suspension of Dana, its Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Sukhjinder Mann, resigned his appointment.
One of the airline’s aircraft, a Boeing 737, was also grounded on Tuesday after it made an emergency landing in Abuja due to a technical fault on one of its engines.
Dana Air had posted a statement on its social media pages informing passengers that all flights have been cancelled due to ongoing audits of its operations, but in an official statement over the suspension, the airline confirmed the development, saying its “operations have been suspended as advised by NCAA to undergo a full operational audit.”
Spokesperson of the airline, Kingsley Ezenwa, apologised to affected customers, describing the development as “painful and heartbreaking for us.” He, however, said the airline would come out stronger from the suspension.
In a statement, yesterday, Dana Air said it “understands the impact this suspension will have on our partners, staff, passengers and the general public, but we are very confident that we would come out stronger as we have done in the past.”
The airline said it would cooperate with the aviation authority in the course of the audit.
“We crave the understanding and patience of our customers, travel and business partners and sincerely apologise for any inconvenience our short absence from the market might cause.
While he appealed for patience, Ezenwa assured them that their offices would remain open to clients to oblige them with round-the-clock information and assistance.
He said customers with unused tickets had been advised to apply for refunds by sending an email to the airline, with their details, and would have the same resolved on or before the weekend.
Ezenwa said that the consolation was that they had commenced operational audits as advised by the NCAA, and were fully cooperating to ensure a quick return to flight operations.
“Operational audits are regulatory and airlines are required to suspend their operations when the regulator calls for it and we are confident, having been successful in previous audits.
“The audit is also an opportunity for us to prove once again and reassure our guests, clients and partners that we remain strong, safe, efficient and reliable.
“As an airline, we are not insulated from the multiple challenges airlines and the aviation industry is grappling with daily, which include the recent skyrocketing cost of aviation fuel at N830/litre, unavailability of forex, ground handling services, inflation, multiple taxations, amongst other operational challenges, which airlines have made frantic efforts to communicate to the flying public and the government,” Ezenwa said.