The management of Aero Contractors has explained that the passengers who chartered the Boeing 737-500, which landed at the Bauchi Airport on Saturday, chose to disembark via a ladder. According to the management, the passengers said they could no longer wait for the airstairs as they were in Bauchi to attend a wedding. The 34 passengers, including the groom, were said to have pressured the pilot that they disembark from the aircraft with a ladder due to the delay.Though the name of the groom was not disclosed, the airline said the angry passengers reportedly forced Capt Nikcevic Vlado to allow them disembark after waiting 10 minutes for the airport manager to provide the airstairs.

Addressing a briefing yesterday in Lagos, the Accountable Manager and Managing Director, Capt Russel Lee Foon, said the breach in operational procedures was due to failure of the airport management. In Foon's words, “Prior to leaving Abuja, the flight despatcher contacted the Airport manager to advise that the aircraft was taxing out and he confirmed that they were ready to receive the flight. At 10:42am, the aircraft touched down on Runway 35 at the Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa International Airport. The controller advised the crew that due to the absence of marshallers and ramp officials, parking would be at their own discretion.”

“At 10:44am, the flight despatcher on board contacted the Airport manager to advise him that they were on the ground, to which he confirmed that he has seen the aircraft and that they were waiting. After parking, the captain reported that they waited for 10 minutes for the stairs to be brought to the aircraft but no assistance or stairs came to the aircraft. The captain reported that he informed the passengers of the situation as they were beginning to get agitated. What was not known to the crew at the beginning of the flight was that the groom was on board. The wedding was to start in 20 minutes. At this point the captain went to the cabin and explained to the passengers that he may have to take them back to Abuja as they cannot disembark due to lack of stairs."

Foon further said the passengers said the alternative, which the fire service provided was a ladder which the passengers took as an option and on their own free will used the ladder to disembark against the wishes of the captain and crew. Reacting to this,the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) yesterday through its spokesman, Yakubu Dati said: “Without prejudice to the directive given by the minister of state for Aviation for investigation into the cause of the incident, we wish to clarify that Aero Contractors’ use of unauthorised equipment (ladder) to disembark its passengers does not have anything to do with FAAN.

“The Bauchi Airport is managed by the Bauchi State government and FAAN only provides statutory services at the airport, such as aircraft marshalling, aviation security services and fire cover. The Authority does not provide handling services for Aero Contractors and therefore does not understand why it should be held responsible for the non-provision of appropriate equipment for passenger disembarkation. We also do not understand why the absence of marshallers on the apron, as claimed by the airline, could cause the use of unauthorised equipment for the disembarkation of passengers from the aircraft. We urge the public to discountenance any story linking FAAN, in any way, with the use of unauthorised equipment by Aero Contractors at the Bauchi Airport.”