How Abuja Airport Closure Impacted Passengers Traffic in Q1

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Kunle Aderinokun

Statistics have shown how the six-week closure of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja adversely affected total passengers traffic in the first quarter of 2017.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the total passengers traffic at the Nigerian airports dropped by 28.2 per cent in the first quarter of this year, attributable to closure of the Abuja Airport for repair works from March 8 to April 19

NBS, which disclosed this in its Air Transportation Data, pointed out that, relative to the preceding quarter, there were 983,705 fewer passengers that travelled through the nation’s airports, translating to a decline of 28.2per cent. When compared with the first quarter of 2016, there were 1,165,482 fewer or 29.4 per cent less people, who travelled through the airports in the review period.

The statistical agency, which explained that, the decline was largely due to the closure of Abuja Airport from March 8th, noted there were 311,261 fewer domestic passengers to travel through Abuja Airport relative to the previous quarter. It, however, added that the effect on the total number would not be limited to a reduction in passengers travelling through Abuja as each domestic passenger to leave Abuja would have also counted as an arrival at a different domestic airport, and vice versa.

“Therefore, although all airports saw a reduction in domestic passenger numbers, this is still partly explained by the Abuja Airport closure. It should also be noted that quarterly declines in the total number of passengers were also recorded in the previous two quarters, and therefore given this trend, it is unlikely that all of the reduction in passenger numbers was due to the closure, as demand for flights was already declining,” NBS explained.

This, the agency said, also helped to explain the divergent trends between domestic and international passenger numbers.
Similarly, relative to the previous quarter, there was a fall of 32.2per cent in domestic passenger numbers, compared to a fall of 18.2per cent in international passenger numbers. “Whereas fewer domestic departures from Abuja mean fewer domestic arrivals at other airports, the same effect is not present for international passengers,” NBS stated.

In comparison with the first quarter of 2016, there were 31.9 per cent fewer domestic passengers in total, and 23.7per cent fewer international.

Notwithstanding the clear effect of the Abuja Airport closure, there were clearly other factors that led to the quarterly and year on year declines, as evidenced by fewer passengers travelling through most international airports, and some domestic airports recording even sharper declines than Abuja.

Of the total air passengers of 2,505,612 that passed through Nigerian airports, 67.3 per cent were domestic passengers, travelling within the country while international passengers, entering or leaving Nigeria accounted for the remaining 22.7 per cent.

This represents a considerable drop both compared to the previous quarter (of 31.3per cent) and compared to the same quarter of the previous year (of 34.5per cent, based on revised 2016 Q1 figures).

Part of the reason for this decline, according to NBS, was that, “the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had data for several additional airports, which are not available for the current period.” However, excluding these, and comparing the same airports, the sharp decline remains.

Analysing the Domestic Passenger Traffic, NBS stated that, in the first quarter of 2017, there was a quarterly fall in the number of domestic passengers of 32.2 per cent, or 801,013 passengers, and a year-on-year fall of 31.9 per cent or 789,757, when considering the same set of airports. “As discussed, this was partly caused by the closure of Abuja Airport from 8th March 2017. There were 311,261 fewer domestic passengers to travel through Abuja relative to the previous quarter, and 321,952 relative to the first quarter of 2016, and this would have caused an equivalent fall across all other airports connected to Abuja. Therefore, over half of the decline can be attributed to the closure.”

However, NBS stated that Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA) in Lagos remained the busiest domestic airport in the first quarter of 2017, accounting for 698,165 domestic passengers, or 41.4 per cent of the total. This, it explained, was a higher share than both the previous quarter, and the first quarter of 2016, in which shares were 36.6 per cent and 35.8 per cent respectively.

Although this airport recorded quarterly and year-on-year falls of 23.3 per cent and 21.3 per cent respectively, these were less steep than the declines recorded in the total number of domestic passengers. Despite the closure, Abuja Airport remained the second largest domestic airport, and accounted for 499,149 passengers, or 29.6 per cent of the total.

As in previous quarters, the third busiest domestic airport in 2016 was Port Harcourt, which accounted for 189,843, or 11.3 per cent of the total. According to NBS, this was an increase from shares recorded in the previous quarter (8.4 per cent) and in the same quarter of the previous year (10.2 per cent).

Besides, NBS noted that the number of international passengers to travel to and from Nigeria declined, but not as steeply as the number of domestic passengers. “There was a quarterly fall of 18.2 per cent, and a year on year fall of 23.7 per cent. As discussed, the closure of Abuja Airport will have had less of an effect on international passenger numbers than domestic, because in the case of domestic travel, each trip made to or from Abuja has a corresponding effect on another domestic airport,” it explained .