After the downturn in the air transport sector, which climaxed in 2016 with the exit of some international airlines that had operated in Nigeria for decades; activities in the sector rebounded in 2017, resulting in growth rate of 12.8 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
By the end of 2017, the federal government had offloaded all the funds of foreign airlines trapped in Nigeria due to the devaluation of the naira and scarcity of foreign exchange in 2015. From $575 million owed the airlines in 2016, it was reduced to $175 and by the end of last year, all the foreign airline operators had repatriated their funds.
This, according to industry experts, was an indication of tremendous growth in the aviation sector because it was due to the inability of the foreign airlines to repatriate their earnings that Iberia and United Airlines shut their operations to Nigeria, while others scaled down their international operations to cut down their capacity in their service to Nigerian destinations in 2016.
However, experts hinged the growth experienced in the air transport sector in 2017 on the relatively stable economy. A recent NBS report on Nigerian Gross Domestic Product on fourth quarter of 2017, indicates that the fastest growing activities in this quarter were road transport at a rate of 27.23 per cent. Air transport, according to NBS, rose at the rate of 12.08 per cent year on year.
The NBS noted that transport contributed 1.74 per cent to Nominal GDP, an incline from the 1.50 per cent recorded in the corresponding period of 2016, and higher than 1.43 per cent recorded in the third quarter of 2017. Annual growth and contribution stood at 13.60 per cent and 1.57 per cent respectively.
Some Travel agencies confirmed that the direct impact of the growth is that airlines are increasing frequencies into the country and opening more routes.
The country manager for Travelstart Nigeria, Philip Akesson confirmed this development and said the increase in ticket sales experienced in Nigeria lately is an indication that the stable economy is helping to give more trust such that the airlines would keep investing.
â€œDelta is commencing Lagos to New York flights, RwandAir is also adding more flights and a lot of the airlines are adding more flights and new routes. Some airlines that flew three times into Nigeria before are now doing daily now. The market is not like it was two years ago, it is improving and a lot of these is because of stability and it is good for business,â€ Akesson said.
Earlier in the year, Emirates returned to Abuja and doubled its frequency to Lagos, thus operating 21 frequencies from a cut back of seven frequencies a week in early 2017
In 2017, air travel recorded ticket sales of N511billion ($1.4) from January to October 2017.
It is also projected that the full implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), which was ratified by 23 member countries of the African Union earlier this year, would triple passenger movement in the West Coast and the rest of Africa, which would boost GDP of participating countries.