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Cablegate: Political Undertone of Slok Air's Grounding

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

191424Z Jul 04

UNCLAS LAGOS 001469

SIPDIS

DOT PASS TO FAA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR ECON EINV PGOV NI
SUBJECT: POLITICAL UNDERTONE OF SLOK AIR'S GROUNDING


1. (U) Summary: Since the suspension and subsequent
revocation of its license in March, Slok Air remains
grounded. Though accused of having violated aviation
regulations, the airline's travails have been
associated with a political face-off between Orji Kalu,
Abia State Governor and owner of Slok, and the ruling
Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP). While aviation
operators are divided on the merits of the revocation
of the airline's license, the Nigerian Civil Aviation
Authority (NCAA) denies that it succumbed to political
influence. Other stakeholders are watching the
regulatory authority attentively. End summary.

2. (U) On March 12, 2004 the NCAA announced the
suspension of two domestic airline operators, Slok
Airlines and IRS Airlines, citing violation of aviation
regulations. The NCAA claimed that IRS Airlines was
sanctioned for destroying an instrument landing system
at Kano Airport while Slok was suspended for offenses
ranging from operating more aircrafts than approved by
the NCAA to inadequate maintenance of its fleet.
Although IRS has since regained its license and resumed
operations, Slok remains grounded, as the Aviation
Ministry subsequently revoked its air transport license
(ATL).

3. (U) Slok Air began operating in January 2004 with
two B737-200 aircrafts flying daily between Lagos,
Enugu, Port Harcourt and Owerri. Having planned to
extend flights to thirteen other Nigerian cities, the
airline was to have acquired possibly eight additional
aircrafts. By March the airline had added two more
aircrafts to its fleet, but these were not listed on
its operations specification documentation. Soon
thereafter, the airline was accused of running all four
aircraft with inadequate maintenance, as well as
disregarding weather advisories.

4. (U) Slok Air's suspension and subsequent revocation
of its ATL nonetheless has political undertones. Slok
Airlines is a subsidiary of Slok Nigeria Limited and is
owned by Orji Uzor Kalu, Governor of Abia state. Kalu
who recently had a face-off with a chieftain of the
ruling Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP), is said to have
floated the airline in anticipation of a presidential
campaign in 2007. According to Stanley Uhajuruka,
Speaker of the Abia State House of Assembly, Kalu has,
however, been a "thorn in the flesh" of the PDP, on
whose platform he was twice elected governor. Uhajuruka
charges that to "check" the outspoken governor, the GON
revoked his airline's ATL under the cover of
technicalities.

5. (U) Aviation operators are divided on the issue.
Edward Boyo, Managing Director, Overland Airways,
believes the sanctions were justified and long overdue.
But the Nigerian Aviation Safety Initiative, an
aviation non-governmental organization, believes the
GON's actions were high-handed and should be reversed.
What seems clear is that Governor Kalu was not making
many friends in the industry. Boyo, for instance,
added that besides violating industry regulations, Slok
Air was charging airfares 20 percent lower than its
competitors, pricing that nearly destabilized the
market and would have been unsustainable.

6. (U) Comment: Although Slok Air might have failed to
abide by the regulations, the way the sanctions were
imposed suggests political motivation. Boyo has
asserted that the carrier "would have been sanctioned
much earlier if it were not owned by a governor", a
statement that reflects the school of thought that if
the governor had remained "good", his aircraft would
have continued to fly despite their technical
shortcomings. Skeptics say the Nigerian Civil Aviation
Authority has to do more than just deny that political
motives were behind its actions; it needs to sanction
all erring operators without fear or favor. This is not
the case, so the operators, investors and other
stakeholders are watching the industry's regulators
more closely now than in the past. End comment.

BROWNE

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