Asaba drama: NCAA suspends United Airline, minister summons safety meeting

THE Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has suspended all wet-leased airlines managed by United Nigeria Airlines.

According to aerocorner.com, a wet lease is any leasing arrangement whereby the lessor agrees to provide an aircraft to the customer with at least one crew member.

The suspension followed a drama on Sunday, November 26, where one of the service airlines that took off from Lagos and headed to Abuja landed in Asaba, Delta state, with its crew citing weather concerns.

United Airline’s aircraft NUA 0504 departed Terminal 2 of the Lagos’ Muritala Muhammed International Airport for Abuja. The passengers were confused when the captain grounded the aircraft at the Asaba International Airport before telling them why.

“Nigeria, my country. We departed Lagos about an hour ago on @flyunitedng to Abuja. Upon arrival, the cabin crew confidently announced that we’d arrived in Abuja, only for us to realise that we landed in Asaba. Apparently, our pilot was given the wrong flight plan from Lagos,” one of the passengers, @dawisu, tweeted on Sunday.

In a statement on its X handle on Monday, November 27, the regulatory agency said it had launched an investigation into the incident.

“The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has commenced investigation into the circumstances surrounding United Nigeria flight NUA 0506 to Asaba and the confusion it has created in the public domain. However, preliminary steps have been taken pending conclusions of ongoing investigation.

“The authority wishes to reassure the travelling public that it will leave no stone unturned as it has always done in the past to ensure the continued safety of the aviation industry.”

Meanwhile, The ICIR spoke with a senior official at the NCAA who confirmed the suspension. She did not volunteer further information.

Sequel to the Asaba debacle and subsequent investigation by the NCAA, the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, has summoned a meeting of aviation regulatory authorities in Abuja.

Keyamo revealed this in a tweet on his X account on Monday.

The minister said he summoned the heads of the regulatory agencies to review the incidents and causes of the concerns.

He also added that the meeting would take appropriate steps to forestall future occurrences.

“Due to safety concerns in the aviation sector expressed by members of the public, I have summoned the heads of the regulatory agencies to my office later today to review the incidents that are the causes of these concerns and to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to forestall future occurrence and to apply sanctions, where necessary, regarding the past incidents,” Keyamo tweeted.

In October 2023, The ICIR reported how delayed airfare refunds frustrate Nigerian travellers.

Due to insecurity and the growing expense of road transportation, air travel has become one of Nigeria’s most popular means of transportation; nonetheless, travellers there must deal with issues, including flight disruptions and delayed reimbursements.

In May 2023, a resident of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Ayanfe John, purchased a Dana Air ticket from Port Harcourt to Abuja scheduled for June 2, 2023.

The evening before the journey, John received a text message from Dana Air stating that the flight had been cancelled. The only explanation by the airline authorities for the cancellation was “operational reasons.”

She told The ICIR that she had been panicked following the cancellation, as she had no alternative means to return to Abuja the following day.

In another incident, a resident of the FCT, Marcus Fatunmole, said his United Airlines flight from Abuja to Port Harcourt on Tuesday, November 21, was delayed for 40 minutes without an apology.

Apart from delayed flights, the airline’s customer care numbers are either unavailable or the persons responsible for picking up the calls refuse to do so.

“I flew United Airlines from Abuja to Port Harcourt last Tuesday. The flight was delayed for 40 minutes without an apology. In Port Harcourt, I needed a document from the airline. I called the customer service line scores of times because the hotel I lodged in was too far from the airport. I didn’t get a response.

“I called the NCAA in Lagos and reported the airline’s attitude. The NCAA unsuccessfully did all it could to help me. On Friday, while returning to Abuja, my flight was for 5:40pm. The flight eventually took off after 8pm without a word from the airline to the waiting and frustrated passengers,” Fatunmole stated.

Delays and cancellations of flights sometimes defeat the aim of air transportation, and travellers spend long hours waiting at airports.

However, flights being rescheduled or cancelled by the airlines hardly come with compensation for the customers. In some cases, no explanations are given.

In developed countries such as the United States of America (USA), when flights are cancelled for any reason by airlines, travellers are entitled to a full refund, which includes the cost of the ticket price, taxes, baggage fees, and any other extra charge regardless of the reason behind the cancellation.

According to the United States Department of Transportation, this refund must be made within seven working days if paid through credit cards or 20 working days if payment was made in cash or cheque. Clients are not under obligation to leave the ticket open for use during subsequent trips.

In the US, 10 of the country’s largest airlines are in binding commitments with the government to take specific compensatory steps in favour of consumers when flights are delayed or cancelled, especially for controllable reasons.

The Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulation of 2015 provides under Part 19 that for delay and cancellation in domestic flights, “when an operating air carrier reasonably expects a flight to be delayed beyond its scheduled time of departure, it shall provide the passengers with reason(s) for the delay within 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time.”

It also provides that if the delay persists for up to two hours, refreshments, two free phone calls, or emails are provided, while reimbursement is made within a prescribed time for domestic flights delayed beyond three hours, depending on the mode of payment.




    The regulation also provided hotel accommodation and transportation in cases where the delays continued till airports were closed and a further 25 percent compensation in cases where a 24-hour notice was not given.

    However, exceptions are made in cases where flights are delayed or cancelled due to reasons outside the control of airline operators.

    Despite the provisions of the law, many travellers do not get refunds within the prescribed time.

    In 2022, The ICIR reported that the Federal Competition and Consumers Protection Commission (FCCPC) encouraged Nigerians to seek redress and insist on quality service in flight delays and cancellations.

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