Crisis Brews In Cross River Over Cally Air Aircraft


Barely two years after it com­menced flight services amid fanfare and pageantry, the op­erations of Cally Air, the airline owned by Cross River State, may have run into a ditch over “assets concession.”

Documents obtained by Dai­ly Independent indicated that the airline, which is being managed by Aero Contractors, is at the centre of controversies between the outgoing governor of Cross River, Ben Ayade, and the incom­ing governor, Prince Bassey Otu, on one hand and Aero Contrac­tors on the other.

While the outgoing governor wanted its aircraft, Boeing 737- 300, with registration number, 5N-BYQ, to be brought to Cala­bar for commissioning and even­tual “concessioning” exercise, it was learnt that the incoming governor suspected foul play in the entire arrangement.

Apart from this, the outgoing governor had earlier in the year listed some of the state’s assets to be concessioned to private firms and included Cally Air as one of such assets.

The plan to concession the state’s assets did not, however, go down well with some of its indigenes as one Mba Ukwenu, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), immediately sued the state government to stop it from going ahead with its plan.

A source close to the state government confided in Daily Independent that the Cross Riv­er State government planned to “concession” the airline to its consultant and asset manager, IRS Airlines Limited.

Also, Aero Contractors, which has been operating and managing the airline since it signed a Memorandum of Un­derstanding (MoU) with the government on April 30, 2021, for operations and maintenance of the airline until recently, is reluc­tant to release the aircraft to the state over an alleged breach of agreement by the government.

Daily Independent gathered that the government owed Aero Contractors over N900 million for services rendered to it on the operations and maintenance of Cally Air for over 24 months.

The MoU was signed among Cross River, IRS Airlines Limit­ed and Aero Contractors for the operation, commercial profit and maintenance of two Boeing 737 aircraft.

According to the MoU, which was sighted by our correspon­dent, the Cross River State gov­ernment acquired two airplanes, 5N-BYQ and 5N-GRS, and select­ed IRS Airlines Limited as its consultant and asset manager, while Aero Contractors was designated as the operator and expected to provide licences, per­mits and certificates necessary for the airline to operate a passen­ger transport aircraft.

The B737-300 with the regis­tration number, 5N-BYQ, is still parked at the Aero Contractors hangar, while the other B737-300 with the registration number, 5N-GRS, is at the graveyard of the Murtala Muhammed Air­port (MMA), Lagos, due to its non-airworthiness.

Daily Independent learnt that about two weeks ago, represen­tatives of Cross River State led by Jake Otu Enyia and Udiba Ef­fiong Udiba, Commissioners for Aviation and Asset Management and Recovery, respectively, held a meeting with the management of Aero Contractors on the pos­sibility of returning the aircraft for concessioning.

The Aero Contractors man­agement agreed to the deal, but raised concerns over the N900 million debts owed by the gov­ernment.

When contacted, a source close to Aero Contractors con­firmed the development, but de­clined to give more details.

The source told Daily Inde­pendent that due to disagreement with the state, Aero Contractors had suspended the use of the aircraft, which is at present still parked at its hangar.

According to the source, the Cross River government failed to pay the airline for maintenance of the aircraft while the sharing formula agreed by the duo was not equally honoured.

It was learnt that the agree­ment stipulated that as the op­erator, Aero Contractors would be entitled to 10 percent of net sales after deductions of all tax­es and charges and all operations expenses as well as any fixed amount due to Aero.

For IRS Airlines Limited, it is expected to get 5 percent, while Cross River State government would earn 85 percent on the same conditions attached to Aero Contractors.

The source said: “The agree­ment between Aero Contractors and Cross River State govern­ment has broken down over non-adherence to the MoU. The state government did not pay for the maintenance carried out on the aircraft in the fleet of the air­line, which is over N900 million.

“Also, the state government told the management to hando­ver the aircraft to IRS Airlines Limited and prepare it for con­cessioning. But the management insisted on the payment of debts owed before such a state could take place. As I am talking to you now, nothing concrete has been reached.”

Further search of the 5N-BYQ aircraft, indicated that the airplane was manufactured on September 30, 1999 for South­west Airline with the registra­tion number, N288WN; serial number, 30334, and line number, 3120.

The aircraft was later ac­quired by AirBaltic, the national carrier of Lativa under the regis­tration number, YL-BBX.

The Cross River State govern­ment acquired the aircraft from AirBatic on April 21, 2021.

The aircraft has 144-seat ca­pacity in two classes’ configura­tion of business and economy seats.

The state had launched its air­line, Cally Air, as part of efforts to boost economic activities in the state and across the country.

The maiden flight of the air­line was operated to Margaret Ekpo International Airport in Calabar, the state capital, in June 2021.

Ayade had said that it was a dream the government had in 2017, occasioned by the high in­flux of traffic into Calabar and the monopoly of some airlines dominating the Calabar route.

Aero Contractor, the operator of the airline, had suspended op­erations in July 2022 over paucity of funds and foreign exchange challenge.

The airline had earlier in April 2022, halted flights into the Cross River State capital.

The flight to Calabar from La­gos was operated with one of the two B 737-300 aircraft.