He said it was a demand for a Third Country Operator approval that forced the airline to engage the services of Global Air Charter for the smooth repatriation of evacuees.
Onyema said, “I want to thank Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika for his support. When this issue happened, a lot of people who were uninformed about this issue told me that it must be the minister that did this.
“I want to use this opportunity to let everyone know that when I called the minister on this issue, he swung into action.
“The Federal Government of Nigeria gave maximum support; it is not an Air Peace issue. The minister saw it as a Nigerian issue because the name of Nigeria was being thrown into the mud by whatever Britain was doing due to the fact that it was a diplomatic charter.
“I want to use this opportunity to clear the air that the Minister of Aviation gave heavy support even in the night. He had to send me voice notes. He had to engage the external affairs minister on what was happening.”
Giving more details on why Britain reneged on the flight process, he highlighted the low cost of the repatriation flight as part of the reasons for the denial of the landing permit.
He said, “When asked why they were turning their backs just 48 hours to the flight, they said we should produce a TCO. We produced the mail from ICAO saying during the pandemic these rules are relaxed and you can fly without TCO.
“They did not know that earlier, they sent a mail to us that we didn’t need TCO. They sent us the mail and that was how we did the first evacuation flight.
“What opened their eyes was the fact that a Nigerian airline was sending two airplanes coming to take Nigerians from Britain at a ridiculously low price which was exposing everybody and they stopped us.”
Onyema added, “I did what I did in order to show my support to these two ministers and to demonstrate that Nigeria is not all about money.
“I don’t want Nigerians to suffer abroad because it could have taken another two weeks to get another airline. These people have stayed there for four months.
“I had 40 people on that airplane flying free of charge because they did not have money. I support the DG of NCAA when he said there should not be personalisation of blames. We all must come together to see aviation survives.”
Onyema said although the UK had airlines doing 21 frequencies to Nigeria, it could not accommodate two flights from the country.