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Shrinking Flight Services Worry Nigerian Travellers After Aero and Dana’s Exit

Besides the high cost of aviation fuel, airlines are facing a critical challenge of sourcing forex to maintain their aircraft and acquire spares.

Air travellers have expressed concern that the shrinking number of airlines in the country may hinder flight operations in the coming days.
There are indications that while two of the notable airlines have stopped flying, the existing ones are also being threatened by the high cost of operation due to increase in the price of aviation fuel and more may also go out of service in a matter of weeks.

THISDAY investigations revealed that at the beginning of this year, airlines operated about 43 aircraft, but these have shrunk to about 32 and due to lack of funds to maintain these aircraft when they break down, the airlines may have to park them until they are able to source forex to take them overseas for maintenance.
Last Monday, Aero Contractors suspended its scheduled flight services due to high cost of operation and lack of equipment and two days later, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) grounded the operations of Dana Air over poor liquidity.
The airlines that are still operating currently include Air Peace, Arik Air, Ibom Air, United Nigeria Airlines, Green Africa, Azman Air and Max Air.

Former CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi said the reduction in the number of airlines would further shrink the number of operating aircraft and with increase in demand and limited supply of equipment, airfares will continue to rise.
“The impact of removing two airlines out of already depleted sector will definitely impact on the capacity and lead to increase in the price of tickets. Demand will increase in the face of shortage of available seats.
“This may give rise to panic buying, as airlines with the knowledge that two airlines are down would increase their prices and force people to start booking ahead. So NCAA should ensure that it effectively regulates the industry. It should look at the health of the airlines, their finances and also protection of the consumers,” Sanusi said.
THISDAY investigation also revealed that if the cost of aviation fuel remains high; some of the existing airlines might not continue to operate and instead of waiting for their flights to be grounded by NCAA, they would suspend operation like Aero Contractors.

Travellers are already facing the challenge of high fares, whose base price was put at N50, 000 in March, but the cost of economy class ticket has risen to between N70, 000 and N90, 000 or even more, depending on the nearness to the date of travel.
“If the fares continue to rise people will boycott the airports, airlines will be forced to reduce their frequencies and this will adversely affect the economy of the country,” said industry insider and former airline operator.
Besides the high cost of aviation fuel, airlines are facing a critical challenge of sourcing forex to maintain their aircraft, acquire spares and even renew the insurance of their aircraft.
THISDAY learnt that airlines cannot ferry their aircraft on AOG (aircraft on ground) overseas for maintenance because they cannot source forex and the operator who spoke to THISDAY said airlines would not be able to sustain their operation if they source forex from the parallel market.

Reacting to the high fares charged by airlines, the Chief Commercial Officer of Green Africa, Obi Mbanuzuo, told THISDAY that as the cost of aviation is increasing, airfares would also be increasing and noted that international insurance companies have also taken advantage of the operational environment (described as hostile by industry experts) to increase premium for aircraft insurance.
“With the rise in the cost of aviation fuel, prices inevitably have to rise and air travel will become even more unaffordable. Foreign insurance providers have already ‘priced in’ the operating environment in Nigeria so a couple of emergency landings (referring to recent emergency landing recorded by Dana Air and Max Air) I don’t think will change anything. There are emergency landings all over the world on a daily basis,” he said.

The General Manager, Public Affairs, NCAA, Sam Adurogboye in his reaction told THISDAY that the regulatory authority is effectively monitoring the airlines and has ensured that they operate safely.

He said it is true that airlines have depleting fleet but the mandate of NCAA is to ensure that no matter what the situation is, only airworthy aircraft would be taken to the skies, adding that it is also the agency’s responsibility to ensure that airlines operate, but that has to be done under the ambit of safety.

He explained that in order to ensure that high standard of safety is maintained in the industry, domestic airlines are shared among teams headed by top officials to monitor their operations and the Director General remains as the head to oversee all activities.

Adurogboye also said because aircraft insurance is compulsory, airlines renew their licences as at when due but if there is any time the agency has to remind any airline to do that, the airline is seriously penalised.

“Airline monitoring is our core mandate and oversight responsibility. The decision we took on the Dana Airline was a product of our own monitoring by appropriate body within NCAA.
“We have always been accused in the media of being too strict on airlines and we didn’t intend to relax on our oversight roles,” he said.

Chinedu Eze

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