Nigeria's top airline grounds all domestic flights

Nigeria's biggest airline Arik Air on Thursday grounded its domestic flights following a dispute with aviation officials, further complicating the country's troubled airline sector, officials said.

The commercial passenger carrier said it was forced to shut down after staff from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) locked a boarding a gate early Thursday, blocking checked-in passengers from accessing their flight in Lagos.

A company statement said FAAN staff were acting on instructions from Nigerian aviation officials who have grievances with Arik.

It did not name any individuals, but cited the "the persistent hostility of the Ministry of Aviation and (FAAN)".

"Trouble started for Arik due to the airline's inability to meet the personal demands of certain influential person(s) in the industry," the statement said, without offering specifics.

Those persons on Thursday "resorted to using FAAN staff", said the statement from the carrier that identified itself as the largest airline in West Africa.

"They locked the boarding gate and prevented passengers from getting to the aircraft and were making false announcements of unimaginable sums of money they claimed Arik owed."

"This is only a calculated attempt to punish the airline and tarnish its image," the statement added.

The head of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, Harold Demuren, told AFP earlier that his office planned to intervene to help resolve the dispute, which he said was linked to disagreements over "landing fees".

"Arik Air has no option than to suspend all domestic operations until further notice," said the statement signed by Arik managing director Chris Ndulue.

Nigerian domestic air travel had already been complicated following Air Nigeria's decision to suspend operations earlier this month.

Dana Air has not yet resumed flights two weeks after Nigeria lifted a suspension slapped on the commercial carrier when one of its planes crashed in Lagos in June, killing at least 159 people in one of the country's worst air disasters.

Nigerian domestic airlines also include Aero and IRS.