Antigua Airways virtually defunct says Prime Minister

Source: CH- Aviation
Antigua Airways (Antigua) – a virtual carrier created to facilitate air traffic between the Caribbean and West Africa – is effectively defunct, with little appetite left for such charters after illegal immigrants exploited them, says Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne.

Speaking to Antigua News Room, Browne said: “In essence, Antigua Airways is practically a defunct entity at this point as we are very gun-shy about continuing those charters because of what happened. We ended up with these opportunistic migrants who came into the country.”

He said the government had sought assistance from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in dealing with the situation. “They should have individuals on the ground shortly to help us do a needs assessment to determine the needs of the economic immigrants […] if any of them have a criminal background, we will have to repatriate them,” he explained.

Last month, the government said 637 of the more than 900 people who arrived on charters between November and January had remained in Antigua. Many were Cameroonians fleeing ongoing conflict between militant groups and the Cameroonian government.

Asked about a lawsuit against Antigua Airways, reportedly filed in the High Court in Abuja, Nigeria, by two disgruntled Nigerian investors, Browne said this had nothing to do with the government of Antigua & Barbuda. ZDK Liberty Radio and Antigua News Room reported that two Nigerian businessmen are suing Antigua Airways, in which the government of Antigua & Barbuda has a 20% stake. But Browne said the suit was being brought against Antigua Airways shareholder Michael Akinola and his company, Marvelous Mike Press Ltd.; Emmanuel Samson, the president of the Antigua-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce, and the chamber itself. “They are saying that Marvelous Mike and Samson cut them out of the process. Marvelous Mike and Samson say it’s not true. So that’s a matter for them. It really has nothing to do with the Antiguan government,” Browne stated.

As reported, Antigua Airways is a private-public partnership between Nigerian online travel agency Wakanow, African aviation services provider Aerostatus, and Nigerian printing and publishing firm Marvelous Mike Press Limited. The Antigua & Barbuda government owns 20% by supporting the airline through the Eastern Caribbean Commonwealth state’s Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP), which provides citizenship to foreign investors who significantly contribute to the island’s socio-economic development. “What we did is we listed Antigua Airways as a CIP investment, and in that case, they could have gotten up to 10 CID files of investment, and that meant that would have given the government a 20% share,” Browne confirmed.

According to Antigua News Room, the Nigerian investors are claiming their partnership agreement of USD1 million in finder’s fees, 6% of the projected audited annual revenue of the virtual airline, and three of ten Antigua and Barbuda passports handed over to the investors by the Gaston Browne administration. Browne said there was nothing illegal about the passports. It’s not true that anybody can get our passports. These individuals would have gone through the same process of due diligence and would have had to have made the investment into Antigua Airways,” he said.

Antigua Airways chartered a B767-300ER from Portugal’s Euro-Atlantic Airways (YU, Lisbon) in November, flying under “Antigua Airways operated by euroAtlantic Airways” titles. Antigua and Barbuda suspended Antigua Airways’ chartered flights from West Africa following a Cabinet decision in January 2023 after the charter was imitated by another operator who tried to smuggle refugees from West Africa via the Caribbean and South America into the United States.

The government of Antigua & Barbuda is now talking to Nigeria’s Air Peace (P4, Lagos) to provide connectivity to West Africa.

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