Chinedu Eze

Domestic carriers are now recording low patronage after the huge Christmas passenger demand, THISDAY has learnt.
Although it is expected that airlines should envisage low passenger traffic from late January to the second quarter, but indications show that Nigerian airlines face similar challenge every year because of high cost of maintenance, high cost of fuel and low revenue generation, which is earned in local currency while cost of checks and training are defrayed in dollars.

Currently only Azman, Max Air, Overland Airways, Arik Air, Air Peace, Dana Air and Aero Contractors are in full operation but THISDAY learnt that some of the airlines cannot bring back their aircraft that had gone for major maintenance because of lack of funds, so they now engage in very lean flight operations.

Head of Corporate Communications of Air Peace, Chris Iwarah, told THISDAY that there could be an ebb in passenger traffic, but it is not significant for his airline, but noted that in the West Coast service, passenger movement is yet to pick up and attributed it to the fact that business is yet to fully kick off after Christmas holiday, a situation that is observed every year.

“Now I can see a mix. I can confirm that there are low figures in some destinations, but there is no significant drop in traffic for us. But there is discernible drop in passenger movement on West Coast routes.
“This may be because business is yet to pick up. Most travellers on regional routes are doing business so this is still early in the year. But hopefully, it will gradually pick up with time,” Iwarah said.
He said Air Peace has neither reduced nor increased fares, noting that the airline has maintained the fares it was charging since early last year.

“We didn’t increase fares during the Christmas season and our fares remain the same,” he said.
In Arik Air, inside sources told THISDAY that the airline still maintains relatively high load factor, but not as high as during the Christmas season, adding that there is relative slump in passenger traffic on some routes, but the airline records almost 100 per cent load factor from Abuja, Lagos to Port Harcourt.

“Our Abuja-Lagos is relatively full, but there is low traffic in other destinations, but our Port Harcourt flights are always full,” the insider told THISDAY.
THISDAY investigation also gathered that operating aircraft on the domestic routes have reduced since after the Christmas season.
Some airlines have ferried their aircraft overseas for major maintenance, while those that had already gone for checks are yet to return, but reports indicate that Arik Air may return all its aircraft taken out to maintenance facilities overseas and when they return they would be deployed for operation.

“Because of the reduction in the number of aircraft, the reduction in passenger traffic may not be noticed because the aircraft available seem to be meeting the passenger demand, but there is reduction in the number of passengers every airline lifts in the domestic market,” an industry observer told THISDAY.

However, industry consultant and the CEO of Aglow Limited, Tayo Ojuri, told THISDAY that passenger movement in the first quarter is not very low due to movement occasioned by the elections on the domestic routes, adding that the major destinations: Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja are very busy and even secondary airports too.

But he said that the traffic will drop further in the second quarter because there would not be money available as the budget would not be passed yet; so government activity would be very low, but the situation would pick up in the third quarter because by then the budget would have been passed and a new government would have been sworn in.
“What drives traffic is government activities and when there is lull in government, it reflects on passenger traffic. So we look at growth in the third quarter because by that time a new government would have been inaugurated and the budget would have been passed,” Ojuri said.