Chinedu Eze
Domestic flight operations may be grounded with the stoppage in the supply of aviation fuel as marketers have been directed to give priority to the discharge of petrol at the ports due to the acute scarcity of the product.
The cancellation of flight services may paralyse the nation’s economy as air transport plays critical role in the movement of top government officials and business people who run the economy.

THISDAY learnt yesterday that tankers bringing aviation fuel to Nigeria, known as Jet A1 have been told to hold back so that the ones bringing petrol would be given priority and opportunity to discharge first due to chronic scarcity of the product.

Airline sources said this would further lead to flight cancellations and many airlines may not be able to operate domestic services at all and only international airlines that are able to source fuel outside the country would be able to airlift passengers to international destinations.

Since the Easter holiday there has been scarcity of aviation fuel which gave rise to delays and fight cancellations as passengers are stranded at various airports.

A source from one of the major airlines told THISDAY that the marketers rarely disclose that the product was not readily available; rather, they would collect money and promise you but when it is the time to supply they would start extending time for the discharge of the product.

“Last time they delayed us by three hours and the three hours delay affected all our operations because it is like a network. Without fuel we cannot operate any of the aircraft; so after getting the fuel we decided which airports to service first. We went to the airports where there are no airfield lighting because we cannot fly to them in the night. This caused severe delays to our flights. But the passengers do not understand what we go through. What they know is that we failed to take off as scheduled time,” the source said.

A senior official of Dana Air said the airline’s Jet A1 suppliers wrote to the management recently about the impending scarcity and expressed optimism that supply might pick up from April 8, but with the priority on the discharge of petrol, it is likely the scarcity would linger.

The official said although the supply of aviation fuel is deregulated but the product is sold at very high rate and at the same time scarce most often, noting that the marketers recently complained of high exchange rate and that they alternate the import of aviation fuel with petrol. This means that when they pay for importation of petrol they may not import aviation fuel at the same time.

On the effect of the scarcity on the economy, the official said that it would not only ground flight operations but it would affect the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the scarcity of petrol has also grounded most businesses in the country.

“The product could be sourced little from Lagos but it is scarce in Abuja and it has been getting worse so flight delays and cancellation are inevitable. Two years ago when we outstripped South Africa as the biggest economy in the continent, we were elated about it but with what is happening now, South Africa will close the gap soon because what is now happening will adversely affect our GDP,” the official said.