Africa: Nigerian airlines’ aircraft size shrinks, fares rise by 15%
The voluntary suspension, coupled with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA)-induced suspension, the country’s aviation industry and may have limited choices of air travellers.
The suspension of FirstNation Airways, has changed the travel dynamics in the Two airlines, Medview and FirstNation, are temporarily out of service.
The carriers are planning to bounce back after sorting out their aircraft problems. Consequently, the situation has contributed to hike in fares, especially on the lucrative triangle Lagos- Abuja-Port-Harcourt route.
New Telegraph learnt that air fares to places like Abuja and Port Harcourt, which attracts huge passenger volume, has slightly risen by 15 per cent. This is coming a few weeks after the Federal Government removed Value Added Tax (VAT) on air transport, which the Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi, said would likely bring down air fares or allow for stability.
Fare increase, according to an expert, is subject to many variables, which include high cost of aviation fuel, otherwise known as Jet A1 and high taxes by different aviation agencies, among others. For those in operation, insufficient aircraft has further compounded the situation; most of the reasons for delays passengers go through at the airports. Aside popular destinations like Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu and Owerri, many other routes that were hitherto serviced by airlines have been jettisoned, forcing people to make tortuous journey by road to their destinations.
Those that dare to go to such destinations operate there twice or thrice weekly and this makes air travel cumbersome. Arik, Aero, Overland, Dana, Air Peace and Azman are the carriers in operation for now. Over the years, before it was hit by mismanagement, which put its indebtedness to the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) at over N500 billion, Arik Air, then regarded at the biggest airline in Nigeria and West Africa, had over 22 airplanes. It had to suspend flight operations to London, Johannesburg and many other destinations due to its internal crisis.
The fleet depleted to about five. Aero Contractors, which had over seven airplanes with many helicopters, now operates about three B737-500 aircraft. Dana, on the other hand, has three airplanes and has scaled down most of their operations. Azman has about three airplanes. Air Peace has over 18 aircraft and is now dominating the Nigerian sky.
Cumulatively, scheduled airlines in Nigeria have less than 40 airplanes in service, underscoring the shortage of equipment for a market of over 180 million people.
The wrong use of equipment has equally affected many carriers who have their aircraft grounded because of huge costs of maintaining their Boeing airplanes. With the skyrocketing cost of aviation fuel, airlines are said to be spending more money on operation cost and may not save money to pay for high maintenance checks, like C-Checks, which could cost as much as $600,000 or more.
So, when their aircraft are due for check, they ground it as Aircraft on Ground (AOG). The situation is made worse by the high exchange rate and the inability of the airlines to access foreign currency despite the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s extension of easier forex window to the airlines. According to industry insiders, Nigerian airlines have lost about 40 per cent of their fleet since early last year and the number of aircraft on AOG may continue to increase as airlines find it increasingly difficult to access forex and their finances continue to deplete due to recession and reduction in passenger traffic.
President of Aviation Round Table (ART), Gbenga Olowo, observed recently that there has been continuous depletion of Nigerian airlines’ fleet. He recalled that in 2010, Nigerian airlines had 54 commercial operating aircraft, but by 2013, the fleet had reduced to 35, noting that with declining fleet size, route expansion would be impossible, robust schedule very difficult and down time for maintenance would impact negatively on schedule.
By Wole Shadare