Who will make the tough decisions to save passengers from undue delays?

Air travel in Nigeria is beset by frequent delays, and sometimes outright cancellation of flights without any justification. A passenger on scheduled travel anywhere in the country at a particular time is never sure when the flight will take off or if it will take off at all. This disorganises business plans, appointments and other engagements and gives rise to inconvenience and frustration, as travellers are sometimes left stranded at the airports. Sadly, this situation has gone on for years, and despite occasional directives from relevant authorities on this vexatious problem, nothing seems to have changed.

We are aware that some flight delays are caused by bad weather and the airlines cannot be blamed for this. But most of the time, there is no rational explanation for the delay and cancellations leading to suspicion that they are deliberate, most often to take more passengers. There is also the notorious ‘VIP movement’, which is now rather frequent. The authorities must deal with this nuisance. Meanwhile, it is ordinarily expected that airlines with few aircraft operate fewer routes and destinations and therefore should run almost seamless services because they are unencumbered by complex scheduling challenges. But all the airlines behave in the same manner, which suggests a serious systemic problem.

According to flight statistics recently released by the Consumer Protection Department of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), domestic airlines operating in Nigeria recorded 41, 398 cases of delayed flights in 2021. That these delays represent more than 35 per cent of the flights within the period under review is unacceptable. A breakdown of the statistics of flight delays by airlines: Aero Contractors had 3,766 cases from 6,973 flights last year. Others are Arik Air, 5,171 from 9,024 flights; Azman Air, 2,494 from 3,921 flights, and Dana Air, 5,227 from 8,103 flights. The others: Overland Airways, 2,441 from 2,917 flights; Air Peace, 9,900 from 17,861 flights; Max Air, 5,212 from 8,607 flights; Ibom Air, 2,582 from 9,551 flights, United Nigeria Airlines, 4,063 from 6,408 flights and Green Africa, 542 from 1,092 flights.

What these data confirm is that flights hardly take off at scheduled time in Nigeria and more worrisome is that all the listed airlines operated an average number of four aircraft or less during this period. It was only Air Peace that operated about 12 aircraft and the airline recorded about 90 flights a day.

There is no doubt that a major cause of delays at many of our airports across the country is poor infrastructure. Passengers spend unduly long time at security screening points because of inadequate number of X-ray machines, especially at peak hours. Ideally, it should take no more than 30 seconds to screen a passenger but in Nigeria it can take up to two minutes with some of the screening officials more interested in extortion than doing their job. This poses a problem for the airlines aside the reputational damage to the country. For example, Air Peace and Arik Air face a lot of delay processing passengers at the General Aviation Terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMA1), Lagos because there is only one functional X-ray machine at any point in time. Hundreds of passengers during the morning rush hours are forced to pass through one functional X-ray machine at each of the terminals at the GAT.

We urge the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to provide adequate security and administrative personnel to effectively man these machines to speed up screening at the airports. Beyond that, FAAN and the NCAA must also deal with airlines that deliberately delay flights due to some dubious ‘operational reasons’.