By Chinedu Eze

Nigerian passengers have cried out over endless complaints about flight delays, while airlines lament high charges, which they allege deplete their operational funds.

In the last two weeks, THISDAY learnt the situation became worrisome as flights were delayed for two hours or more and some were cancelled at short notice, leaving passengers stranded and frustrated.

Investigations revealed that the uncertainty about flight time has affected businesses engagements and eroded confidence in domestic flight operation because flight scheduled for 10:00 am might not take off till 2:00 pm, putting air travellers at the mercy of airlines.

Sources told THISDAY that generally there is low capacity among airlines because many aircraft are on AOG (Aircraft on Ground), as some of them that are due for major checks could not be ferried overseas because of the high cost of dollars.

“So some airlines that rested about one or two aircraft on AOG in their fleet try to meet up their published committed schedule with the fewer aircraft at their behest and this causes delay. And if any of the operational aircraft develops fault it further exacerbates the problem,” a source said.

Some air travellers have indicted the major operators as most of the culprits in flight delays; these are airlines that operates more routes, including Arik, Aero, Medview and Air Peace and in the last six months Aero has been operating about half of its fleet, while the rest of the aircraft are on maintenance overseas or on AOG, but spokesman of the company, Simon Tumba said the airline had fuel supply challenge which has affected its operations.

An Arik source however explained that if an aircraft that was scheduled to pick passengers develops technical problem, the aircraft has to be repaired and after it becomes airworthy, it would have to be certified by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and that takes time.

The source said there are other factors that cause delays or could lead to cancellation of flights and pointed out that many airports in the country do not have airfield lighting, which prevents flight from operating to the airport in the night. Then the issue of bad weather, which is beyond anybody’s control, also causes delays and flight cancellations.

“So airlines cram their flight schedules and most of the flight time take place during the day. If we can operate to many of these airports both in the day and in the night we would put some flights in the night and create enough gaps between schedules, so that if there are technical issues the engineers will correct it before the next flight,” the source said.

He noted also that most of the delays in the past two weeks before Easter and after, was caused by inadequate supply of aviation fuel in addition to other factors.

Meanwhile, the airlines are complaining bitterly about high charges imposed against them by aviation agencies in addition to double taxation and high tariff on imported aircraft parts, which they pay to customs.

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) allegedly usurps substantial part of the money earned from ticket sales by airlines, but a source from FAAN’s commercial department said the agency only collects N1000 as passenger service charge (PSC), while the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) collects 5 per cent ticket sales charge, which it shares with some agencies like Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET), the College of Aviation Technology, Zaria and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).

In addition, NAMA also collects enroute charges from the airlines, as FAAN collects fuel surcharge of N2.50K, which the marketers collect from airlines on its behalf.

Airlines have severely complained about most of these charges in addition to the exorbitant tariffs, which FAAN collects from its car parks and tollgates.

The airlines said it would be difficult for them to make profits as these agencies continue to level these charges on them in addition to VAT which it is only the airlines that pay in the transport industry.