Airlines Raise the Alarm over Persistent Aviation Fuel Scarcity

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Chinedu Eze

Domestic airline operators have called on the federal government and concerned authorities to take urgent measures to ensure availability of aviation fuel, otherwise known as Jet A1. They warned that if no urgent action was taken to supply the product, they may be forced to suspend their services.

Some of the operators who spoke to THISDAY said that out of the six marketers that supply the product only one still has the product and the price has risen to N248 per litre in Lagos and N351 per litre in Abuja.

The Director of Engineering of Medview Airline, Lukeman Animashaun said aviation fuel now constitutes about 60 percent to 70 percent of the total cost of flight operation for Nigerian airlines and stressed that no airline is making any profit, but every airline that has airworthy aircraft must do everything possible to put it in the air.

“We are getting the product at N248 per litre in Lagos. The price is increasing everyday, but the price of ticket sales has not changed. Every day, the price of aviation is going up, but passengers will not understand this. If we increase the price of tickets to reflect the increase in fuel costs the passengers will not be able to fly. There is no airline that is making any profit. Now, cost of fuel constitutes 60 to 70 percent of operational cost.

It is more challenging when we consider the cost of fuel for our London flight, now that we are using Boeing B747. That aircraft takes about 160, 000 litres of aviation fuel and we cannot imagine refueling our aircraft in any of our neighbouring countries; it is the foreign airlines that do. Our London flights are already booked and we can never disappoint our customers,” Animashaun said.

Also the Managing Director of Arik Air, Chris Ndulue, told THISDAY in a telephone interview that the aviation fuel scarcity started last week and it is biting harder.

He said that the scarcity has added to the challenges of doing business in Nigeria noting that even the oil marketers are having difficulties in sourcing the product.

Ndulue recalled that during a recent conference in Lagos on oil and gas, there were indications that the importation of Jet A1 might be hampered but the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) promised to import the product. He said the current scarcity was an indication that the Corporation reneged in its promise.

The Arik Air boss said the airline’s major supplier of aviation fuel is Total, but the company did not have the product and as at Wednesday only So Aviation had fuel.

He said it was surprising that Total, a major supplier did not have fuel and that showed the gravity of the scarcity and observed that the major marketer has been leveraging on forex from its upstream partner, Texaco, so the problem is enormous if the company cannot source and supply Jet A1.

“A lot of businesses are going through a lot of problems. These are the problem of running business in Nigeria. Recently the increase in aviation fuel prices has been astronomical, driven by the high exchange rate. Such increase in fuel costs could trigger 100 percent increase in airfares, but the travelling public is going through a lot. Some don’t get their salaries, other don’t get their allowances due to the current economic recession. So people are cutting their expenditure to mere essentials.

“The market has shrunk because some people who hitherto used to fly now travel by road or other means. Now, if you jerk up the fares the market will shrink further,” Ndulue said.

He had earlier noted that in this period when other parts of the world are enjoying cheap fuel, Nigeria is paying outrageous costs for the products due to the crash of the Naira and the attendant high cost of exchange rate.

Industry observers are of the view that the only solution to the recurrent scarcity of aviation fuel was to refine the product locally adding the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has urged the federal government to start refining Jet A1 in Warri Refinery, which has the capability of refining the product in Nigeria.