Domestic operations shrink amid growing flight delays

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Operations of domestic airlines in the country have again dropped in figures as at least two in every three flights are now delayed nationwide.

A new report on flight operations and complaints released by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), showed that the total number of flights operated last November dropped to 3,903 flights, of which 2,911 were delayed and 63 cancelled.

In effect, more passengers’ dissatisfaction were recorded, with consequent effects on revenue accrued to both airlines and regulators.

While the operators blamed economic downturn, ‘perennial’ fuel shortage and other operational issues, industry watchers said the operators should hold themselves responsible for the challenges.

Recall that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently posted a 8.2 per cent growth rate in passenger demand for airlines in Nigeria and their counterparts in Africa, compared to the figures in November 2015.

IATA, the clearinghouse for about 260 airlines in the world, said the growth was recorded amidst “challenging economic conditions, particularly in the biggest economies of Nigeria and South Africa.”

The challenging conditions were telling in NCAA’s fact-sheet for the month of November. The airlines — Arik Air, Azman, Dana, Med-View, Overland, First Nation and Air Peace — all operated a total of 3,903 flights. It was indeed a drop in operations, when compare to 3,961 operated flights in September, 4,892 flights in March and 5,399 in January 2016.

A breakdown shows that Arik Air operated a total of 1,364 flights, delayed 1,072 and cancelled 36. The largest airline in West Africa airlifted a total of 186,004 passengers in November.

Air Peace comes next, operating a total of 980 flights, delayed 678 but cancelled none. The airline carried a total of 205,917 passengers on the domestic front.

Dana Air operated 515 flights, delayed 422 and cancelled 10. The number of passengers airlifted was put at 106,273.

Med-View has to its credit a total of 346 flights, delayed 232 and cancelled two. The airline carried 75,892 passengers.

Azman operated 336 flights, delayed 283 and cancelled 10. At least 57,772 passengers were airlifted in November.

No fewer than 207 flights were operated by Overland, out of which 162 were delayed and one cancelled. Also to its credit were 15,000 passengers.

First Nation operated a total of 155 flights, delayed 62 and cancelled four. The airline carried a total of 31,754 passengers.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Med-View Airlines, Muneer Bankole, said effective price control of aviation fuel and its constant supply were most imperative to alleviate the financial and operational difficulty faced by the airlines.

Bankole said: “Jet-A1 remains very crucial to the aviation sector and we have said it severally. At the beginning of this administration we thought they were going to create a window in one of the refineries to get this product and bring down exposure of dollars.

“Today, fuel is at the mercy of the marketers. They are selling now at N204. In January last year, it was N101 per litre and some were selling at N98. Today, it is N204 and up to Maiduguri and Yola, it can go as high as N240 because the fuel marketers claim that they are looking for dollar to get the product in for us. We expect lot more to be done in the area of fuel,” he said.

Operators have consistently called on the Federal Government to refine the product locally. Apparently in response, the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had said that the Kaduna and Port-Harcourt refineries would be dedicated to refining aviation fuel.

While some of the airlines blamed the drop and delays on fuel shortage and scarcity, industry experts, blamed the airline operators.

Aviation security consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), said the airlines ordinarily should have no excuse, but for the fact that they are indebted to fuel marketers among others.

Ojikutu said that the regulators, especially the NCAA should audit the airlines to determine their debts or financial health and also the sustainability of their operations.

Former Managing Director of the Federal Airports of Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Richard Aisuebeogun, observed that Nigerian airlines have remained in isolation and weak, which explains why they are not making progress.

In November also, 26 foreign carriers plied the nation’s airports, recording 1,289 flights, 587 delays, 18 cancellations, four air returns, 388 delayed/ missing luggage and 310,302 passengers were collectively carried.

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