The declining number of operating aircraft in Nigerian airlines’ fleet is taking a toll on air transportation in the country as most flights are either delayed or cancelled leaving passengers stranded at various airports.
THISDAY checks revealed that the air passengers that wait in departures are currently on the rise, as there are only few aircraft currently that airlift passengers to their destinations.
The grounding of Aero Contractors, which formerly had about 10 aircraft in its fleet, has not helped matters. With the suspension of Aero’s schedule operation, the market lost the airline’s fleet of aircraft.
Also with the skyrocketing cost of aviation fuel, airlines are said to be spending more money on cost of operation and may not save money to pay for high maintenance checks, like C-Checks, which could cost as much as $500,000 or more; so when their aircraft are due for check, they ground it as AOG (Aircraft on Ground).
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) extension of easier forex window to the airlines are also worsening the situation.
According to industry insiders, Nigerian airlines have lost about 40 percent 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 as their finances continue to deplete due to recession and reduction in passenger traffic.
President of Aviation Round Table (ART), Gbenga Olowo observed recently there has been continuous depletion of the fleet of Nigerian airlines. He recalled that in 2010, Nigerian airlines had 54 commercial operating aircraft but by 2013 the fleet had reduced to 39, noting that with declining fleet size, route expansion would be limited and robust schedule very difficult and down time for maintenance would impact negatively on schedule.
He attributed the failure of airlines to improve and add more aircraft to their fleet to the harsh operating environment, high charges paid by the airlines to aviation agencies and poor managerial skills by the airlines management.
“Airline user charges for example are as high as 15 per cent. User charges are revenue collected for other organisations factored into the fare (without commission) whereas airlines are not revenue collectors. Hence the former International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director-General, Tony Tyler described airlines as cash cows.
“High cost of fuel, high cost of funds, exorbitant airport rent and airspace movement charges at home require government serious attention. On the other hand, poor management decisions and corporate governance by the airlines owners have resulted to high mortality rate in the industry,” Olowo said.
Last week the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Saleh Dunoma narrated the difficulty encountered trying to get a flight from Abuja to Lagos.
He observed that paucity of operational equipment is now a fundamental challenge to Nigerian airlines, which may have aircraft in their fleet but not many of them are operational and airworthy.
According to him, “The major problem is the dwindling capacity of our airlines. They are faced with lack of equipment and fuel scarcity. Most of the airlines don’t have aircraft to operate their schedule in addition to fuel scarcity, so we need to look at the situation of the airlines,” Dunoma told Senate Committee on Aviation in its recent fact finding mission to Lagos.
The FAAN boss also noted that the agency is being owed by the airlines, which cannot airlift passengers and earn its revenue, remarking that as long as the airlines are not doing well and earning revenues it would be difficult for them to pay their charges and other expenses.
“This is a situation where an airline that ought to operate 10 flights is only able to operate only two, so it becomes difficult for them to pay us for our services,” Dunoma noted but added that the agency has introduced pay as you operate system to forestall indebtedness.
A regular traveller told THISDAY that in recent times passengers wait for long for their operating aircraft to arrive and take them to their destination and when its arrival is announced they visibly heave a sigh of relief, but as they wait for their own fights, the public address system continues to announce delays and cancelation of other flights.