Aviation industry stakeholders have said that airlines and aviation agencies lose over N10 billion annually to flight delays, while calling for caution and possible solution to address the losses.
The stakeholders who spoke to THISDAY said the aviation industry in Nigeria seemed not prepared for efficient flight operations because the factors that lead to delays and cancellations of flights in Nigeria are the same factors that other countries have overcome with specialised equipment and efficient services.
But in Nigeria, the modern, state-of-the-art equipment has not been maximized, hence the high number of flight delays and cancelation in the country.
The Managing Director of Flight and Logistics Solutions Limited, Amos Akpan, told THISDAY that airlines lose huge revenue anytime there is flight delay that lasted over an hour because the airline would lose one rotation.
A rotation is when an aircraft is scheduled to fly, for example, Lagos-Abuja-Calabar and it is programmed to operate six rotations a day, but when the aircraft loses one hour in flight rotation, it is now left to fly five rotations.
The airline loses about N12 million to N14 million revenue if a flight loses one rotation and the frequency of delays in Nigeria’s aviation industry indicates that airlines lose over 10 billion annually along with aviation agencies like the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), which earn zero revenue when a flight does not operate.
Akpan also said that flight delays and cancellation also lead to poor aircraft utilization because an aircraft like a Boeing B737 is expected to be “flogged” about 16 hours a day but to keep the aircraft healthy, it ought to operate at least eight hours a day, but flight time in Nigeria is limited, which is largely 6:00 am to 6:00 pm to many airports, especially daylight airports; the aircraft struggles to meet adequate utilization.
“Once there is flight delay beyond one hour the airline loses a lot of money. It will lose money when it refunds the passengers, the airline suffers image damage, the brand suffers and the airline will lose money because it will not meet its utilization plan for the month. The airline loses money on fixed costs like aircraft insurance; operational costs and the only area it will not lose money is on fuel and food,” Akpan said.
He said that whether the aircraft operates or not the airline will pay aircraft insurance after it has lost huge revenue; so, the airline’s projections will not be met.
“You will still pay for insurance, pay for the crew and this is why flight delays and flight cancelations are traumatizing to the manager of the airline because most of the causes of the delays are beyond his control. The airline does not want delays to happen but it is happening. Airline is not responsible for sunset airports; they are not responsible for low visibility, poor weather, but I think that airports should have equipment that counter some natural forces like the weather. So, airports ought to have the right equipment so that airlines can operate during heavy downpour,” he said.
According to Akpan, the cost of providing electricity to the airports is too high, adding that in some countries where electric supply is stable, cost of managing an airport is relatively low. He however said in Nigeria, the cost remained very high.
He said that another major problem is that there is distrust between airlines and passengers, noting that passengers most often do not believe airlines’ explanation to the cause of delays.
Speaking, the President of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Nigeria, Dr. Alex Nwuba, confirmed that there is distrust between airlines and air travellers and noted that such distrust is what lead to passengers’ violent reaction to flight delays and cancellation.
“Many years ago, as an airline CEO, we faced the challenge of customers complaining that others were going and that we were using the weather as an excuse for our delay. As usual then, as it is now, at 7 am, every airline prepares to take off, in our case we announced a 30-minute delay due to the weather.
“Our passengers got mad at us and rained all kinds of abuses for our inefficiency because as they had contacted others and learned that three airlines had departed for our destination, and the family awaiting them made no weather observations at the airport, so obviously what we were saying was nonsense.
“All I told my staff to emphasize is that we hold safety as a higher priority than others, emphasizing the word safe, and we love them and that we love our customers, and will do everything to make their flying experience safe; to which they rebuffed and called us all kinds of names.
“Half an hour later the same relatives called them and informed me that airlines were circling above and two had even attempted to land but aborted, an hour later the flights that left returned to Lagos in their full glare. It marked a defining point in our relationship with our customers and deepened their loyalty to our product. Aviation is a business, customers must trust you, and that trust is built around reliability and service, ”Nwuba said.
But the Chief Executive Officer of West Link Airlines, Captain Ibrahim Mshelia, in a WhatsApp statement said that many factors that cause flight delays in Nigeria are beyond the control of airlines, but airlines are always blamed by passengers when there are flight delays without finding out the cause of the delays.
“I have never seen an airspace that tend to give passengers rights and all wrong and blame to airlines like Nigeria, regardless of causes of delays; mind you, airlines lose a lot when they delay or cancel flights,” he said.
It was learnt that some of the causes of the delay are bad or inclement weather for flight operations, which happens all year round, VIP movement, poor airport infrastructure and airlines’ poor scheduling.