At different aviation fora, industry experts have stated that one of the things that could determine the success or failure of an airline is its choice of aircraft.
Bigger aircraft like Boeing B737, which carries from 120 passengers, is meant for mid-range distance of three to six hours. But in Nigeria where it is the favourite of most of the airlines, it is used for domestic destinations which are largely one hour flights.
Some industry experts posit that this is a wrong choice of aircraft because while such size of aircraft needs to be operated for about 16 hours a day, the Nigerian operational environment can only allow maximum of nine hours flight in a 6am to 6 pm fight schedule because most airports in the country don’t allow night flights.
With turnaround time and delays, aircraft rarely operate for nine hours in Nigeria.
Industry insiders argued that it is more economical to operate smaller aircraft in terms of fuel efficiency and the fact that besides the major cities of Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, other cities in the country do not have high passenger demand, so the small body aircraft would suffice.
In addition to the above, engine depreciation is calculated on the number of landings, which means at certain number of landing an engine could be due for checks. Although, according to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations, major maintenance, which is C-check is stipulated for 18 months.
Some airlines that started with mainly Boeing B737 in their fleet were forced by reality to bring in smaller body aircraft like the turbo-props. For example, when Arik Air started with Boeing B737 fleet, it opened the Nigeria Air Force (NAF) base in Port Harcourt where the runway cannot take in bigger aircraft. So it secured on wet lease Bombardier Q300 (Dash 8) aircraft, which it used to operate Lagos-Warri (Osubi) and Lagos-Port Harcourt (NAF) base.
Later the airline acquired four Bombardier CRJ 900 aircraft, which is small body aircraft with capacity of about 75 passengers. Overland Airways, which largely operate what is called secondary airports, use ATR, which is small body aircraft for short distance travel.
Also, the largest Nigerian carrier, Air Peace recently delivered six Embraer 145 aircraft, which is 50-passenger capacity aircraft for short hauls and for low passenger destinations.
THISDAY spoke to industry experts who noted that in as much there is need for small body aircraft, passenger demand must be taken into consideration.
The Chief Flight Officer of Air Peace, Captain Victor Egonu, a seasoned pilot of many years, who said the choice of aircraft is mainly determined by the route and passenger traffic.
“The choice of aircraft type depends on the market. When you consider the Lagos-Abuja route you know that you need a bigger aircraft. You could say that small body aircraft consume less fuel, but bigger aircraft consume less fuel per seat.
“So choice of aircraft type depends on the demand of the route. For example, Embraer 145 will not be the right aircraft for Lagos-Abuja, but it will be the right aircraft for Lagos-Sokoto or Abuja-Sokoto. It depends on the number of seat you have on that route,” he said.
Egonu, explained that Air Peace started operating Lagos-Asaba with Embraer 145, which is 50 passenger capacity but when the route started doing well, it increased operation to two times daily and noted that if the runway of the airport could take bigger aircraft, it would be economical for Air Peace to put a 130-capacity Boeing B737 on the route and operate once a day. This is because more fuel is consumed by two Embraer 145 flights to the route per day.
Also, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) who is also a seasoned pilot, the former CEO of Aero Contractors and also the former Director General, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Fola Akinkuotu, urged airlines to also look at passengers’ choice, saying that Nigerian passengers prefer bigger aircraft, which fly above the clouds.
“The choice also depends on the market. For those criticising the use of Boeing B737 for one-hour flights, in the US which aircraft type do they use? They also use B737.
“So the aircraft to use is determined by popular choice of the passengers. So what customers prefer should count. Nigerian travellers prefer flying above the clouds.
“Even when you look at the preferred aircraft between London-Paris, which is about one hour or less, they still use Boeing B737 or Airbus A319 or A320 aircraft. Operating cost should be determined by the airline, but the customer should be given his choice,” he explained.