Africa: Mixed feelings over increasing flight delays
The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) recently released the June, 2019, summary of domestic and international flight operations indicating that over 50 per cent of the flights were delayed. The development further exposed the frustration and disappointment passengers go through on a daily basis in trying to connect many local destinations.
According to the executive summary of international and domestic flight operations for June, 2019, nine airlines operated 5,323 flights, out of which 2,900 were delayed.
The airlines are Aero Contractors, Arik Air, Azman Air, Dana Air, Dana, Med-View, Overland Airways, Air Peace, Max Air and Ibom Air. The statistics indicates that all the airlines had over 50 per cent of the flights delayed.
In the month, Aero Contractors operated 567 flights and delayed 358; Arik Air did 830 flights with 293 delays; Azman Air operated 558 flights and had 261 delays; Dana had 327 delays out of 462 flights operated; Med-View operated 56 flights and delayed 31; Overland did 205 flights and delayed 162; Air Peace did 1,995 flights and delayed 1,050; Max Air operated 430 flights and delayed 275 while Ibom Air operated 220 flights and delayed 143.
A passenger who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity said, “The issue of flight delays has become a recurring decimal in Nigerian aviation. There was never a time I would travel on the domestic route without the flight being delayed. You will hear the announcer saying the flight has been delayed due to operational reason.”
Recently, the National Association of Seadogs (NAS), also known as Pyrates Confraternity called on the regulatory agencies in the aviation sector to address the increasing rate of flight delays. The Capon of the Ikeja branch of NAS (Panama Deck), Mr. Iheanyi Konkwo, noted that recent cases in Kano, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Owerri, Benin, Asaba, Ilorin and Enugu airports, among others, were worrisome. The organisation urged the regulatory agencies, namely the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) to enforce sanctions on erring airlines so as to bring sanity to the sector.
Our correspondent reports that year in year out, incidents of flight delays characterised flight operations in Nigeria. The flight operation statistics from 2016, 2017 and 2018 indicated that more than 50 per cent of the flights were delayed with all the major airlines involved.
While there are natural factors which could cause flight delays, experts believe the operating airlines have a lot to do in reducing the impact on passengers. In aviation, there are factors triggered by what industry players call force majeure which could cause flight delays.
These include inclement weather, unexpected snags on aircraft and issues bothering on safety. Another major factor, as observed by airlines, is the inadequate infrastructures at the nation’s airports. There have been concerns about inadequate screening points at the airport terminals especially the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos where hundreds of flights originate on a daily basis.
Chairman of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema, recently observed the need for improvement in infrastructure at the terminals to reduce the incidents of flight delays. Mr. Onyema said, “99 per cent of our flights originate from Lagos before going to other places. These flights from Lagos generate about a thousand passengers, but our terminal at the airport is too small to accommodate this number conveniently. That is why the crowd at airport is usually chaotic. There is only one security scanner and that often causes delays. Meanwhile, the pilots are already seated in the cockpit of the plane waiting for passengers.”
This aligns with the view of Group Capt. John Ojikutu, the Secretary of Aviation Roundtable, who concurred that most of the factors responsible for flight delays were beyond the control of airlines. According to him, there are issues of passenger access control, passenger and carry-on-baggage check-point screening, hold baggage screening and sorting, number of boarding gates and the boarding screening. These are not within the control of the airlines as they often delay passenger facilitation and flight departure time, especially at Single Terminal Airport, with a single passenger screening, check points and single boarding gate.
He advised that stakeholders and the NCAA should ensure the efficiency of passenger checkpoint screening facilitation process and the screening machines. “There is the need to ensure that there are sufficient skilled manpower at these screening points and that there is regular power supply to the screening machines such that deficiency or breakdown of manpower or machine does not result to manual screening in aviation security defence layer,” he said.
Also speaking, spokesman of Dana Air, Mr. Kingsley Ezenwa, said airlines generally hated to delay flights but that there were times that the problem was beyond their power. “What passengers do not know is that so many things can cause delays and for us safety comes first when the issue is a tech related one. We would rather refund than fly a faulty plane.
But when it is weather related or VIP movement or any other thing, there is little or nothing we can do than to apologise to our guests, provide necessary refreshments or compensation according to regulations as the case may be,” he said.
“Some of the multiple flight diversions due to bad weather and aerodrome closure during sunset are as a result of inadequate or non-functional ground navigational equipment such as ground-to-air radar, Instrument Landing System, VHF Omnidirectional Range, among others. The regulatory agencies should wake up to its responsibilities in this regard,” he added. FAAN, however, absolved itself of blame from flight delays, insisting that as the manager of the airports, it had put in place measures to improve facilitation at all the airports.
Spokesperson of FAAN, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, said there were two boarding gates at the GAT, insisting it was not the problem of FAAN if airlines decided to delay flights when passengers had arrived at the airports hours before their flights. Stakeholders, however, agree that while flights delays are inevitable when matters of safety are involved, effort must be made to mitigate the impact of such delays on passengers.
By Abdullateef Aliyu