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Okonkwo: Poor Infrastructure, Bad Weather Cause 90% of Nigeria’s Flight Delays

“We are underutilizing the equipment we have paid huge money to bring into Nigeria,” he said.

The Chief Executive Officer of United Nigeria Airlines, Obiora Okonkwo, has said that the majority of flight delays and cancellations are caused by harsh weather conditions and the lack of infrastructure in Nigeria’s aviation industry.

Also speaking on the new rule given by Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, that flight delays and cancellations must be published, Okonkwo said that the stakeholders in the industry are happy with this rule as it benefits the airline operators more.

In an interview with ARISE NEWS on Monday, the CEO, regarding the compulsory publishing of flight cancellations/delays, said, “It is actually to the best interest of the operators, because the whole intention is for the travelling public to know why there are delays and who is responsible because we, part of the agreement we reached at that stakeholders meeting is that let these delays be published- actually, it’s not daily, it should be weekly moving forward, but let the reasons for the delay be made known because we are aware that 95% of the reasons for the delay is outside the capacity or the reasons from the operators.”

He then mentioned that more than the information being made public for reasons of flight delays to be made available, it will ensure that the public is educated on their rights, saying that there are rules that passengers have to behave in an orderly manner.

Speaking on the causes of flight delays in the country, Okonkwo said, “There are about 90 something reasons that can lead to delay, and out of these 90 something reasons, probably about 5 of them could be attributed to the operators. And the only reason there could be is if you have an AOG, AOG is that if you have an indication of any fault in the aircraft, for safety reasons, you must have to clear this before you take off. It might not be that there is a problem, but this is a business nobody wants to take a chance because of life that is involved.

“But beyond that, the rest of the reasons are from the weather, from lack of infrastructure, and all that. You might find out that 90% of the time for the delay, you might look out across the window, and you will see the aircraft parked there. The aircraft is parked there because it’s trying to check the weather in the next destination, and this weather is bad.”

He then mentioned that infrastructural challenges also caused delays, explaining that in most parts of the world aircraft could land with zero visibility. However, in Nigeria, about 2000 visibility is needed for planes to land as the facilities are not working. He also mentioned that some airports do not have lights on the runway, and as such, pilots have to use their regular sight to land.

Okonkwo then said, “Part of the things we have made a very strong request about with the minister was that why should we have airports, and we can’t fly into these airports as long as we want? From 6:30 to 12 midnight, or even 24 hours? Because aircrafts are manufactured to fly. We are underutilizing the equipment we have paid huge money to bring into Nigeria. As a matter of fact, a typical aircraft should fly 18 hours out of 24 hours in a day, but here, we’re only flying 8 hours, and you know why? Because there is what is called sunset in the airport and sunrise. That means you can’t start operation before 6:30, and 80% of the airport, apart from the international airport like Abuja, Kano, Lagos, Port-Harcourt to some extent, you only can close by 6:30 or with special arrangements that will cost you huge amounts of money, fly beyond 6:30.

“So, in that case, the airlines squeeze their operations to get a minimum of what we call 8 circles in a day, at least to break even on that flight. With that 8 circles, you are forced to be doing a turnaround within 30 minutes, because you have turnaround 30 minutes which gives you 12 hours. So, when that is done, at any slightest delay, then you are already overshooting the 6:30 time, and then what happens, you don’t have to go to that airport. You have aircraft, you have crew, but you cannot land, then you cancel. And you know, in all of these things, the only thing the passengers know is to blame and to hit on the operators. So, when the minister said they have to announce these delays, it is not really, it is to the best interest of the operators. We are happy with it, we demanded for it, we are going to show all the cooperation that is needed.”

Giving his opinion on what Keyamo could do better, Okonkwo said, “There is a need for him to intervene less in the activities of the agencies. The agencies, by the law establishing them- it’s not Nigerian law, it’s international aviation law under the auspices of ICAO. They have to operate without interference from the government or from the ministry. Obviously, minimum oversight is also very important. So, we made that demand with the minister that we must have to be allowed to operate.”

He mentioned that also, in the stakeholders meeting, they had agreed that Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has to be the master agency among the rest of the agencies, and then the minister should get all the information he needs about the Nigerian aviation industry from the NCAA.

Ozioma Samuel-Ugwuezi