Air passenger traffic down 46% in 2020 on COVID-19 impact

…as Osubi, PH, Ibadan, Ilorin, Kaduna top airports with highest decline

Airports across Nigeria in 2020 saw a sharp decline of 46 percent in passenger traffic owing to the lockdown policy and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, the federal government shut down airports across Nigeria in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19. All airports in Nigeria were closed to all incoming domestic and international flights except emergency and essential flights.

The shutdown which lasted for five months forced airlines to park over 120 airplanes losing an aggregated N10 billion monthly as a result of the pandemic.

This means a N50 billion loss in five months.

Data by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN) seen by Businessday, shows that passenger traffic fell by 46 percent from 17,761,455 in 2019 to 9,426,297in 2020.

Major airports such as Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Kano airports also saw a sharp decline in passenger traffic.

Passenger traffic in Murtala Muhammed Domestic Airport fell by 44.9 percent from 4,422,023 in 2019 to 2,436,763 in 2020; Murtala Muhammed International airport passenger traffic fell significantly by 67.3 percent from 3,202,837 in 2019 to 1,046,568 in 2020.

Passenger traffic for Abuja domestic airport also crashed by 33.9 percent from 4,403,847 in 2019 to 2,910,786 in 2020; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja passenger traffic reduced by 54.5 percent from 1,038,720 in 2019 to 473,008 in 2020.

Passengers processed at Port Harcourt domestic airport reduced from 1,252,506 in 2019 to 597,190, showing a drop of 52.3 percent. Passenger traffic at Port Harcourt International Airport crashed significantly by 70.4 percent from 99,918 in 2019 to 29,526 in 2020.

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Kano local airport also saw a 38.6 percent drop in passenger traffic from 552,173 in 2019 to 339,089 in 2020. Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport saw a sharp drop of 75.4 percent in passenger traffic from 187,441 in 2019 to 46,071 in 2020.

Seyi Adewale chief executive officer – Mainstream Cargo Limited noted that these figures are expected as a result of the lockdown but beyond the lockdown, he highlights some contributing factors include high percentage level of those that were made redundant at work, salary reductions for up to 40percent to 70 percent and suspension or postponement of corporate training, seminars and conferences.

Adewale pointed out more contributing factors to include, obvious three to four months sit a home policy, official work from home policies, rising inflation/ cost of living, high hospitalization rate, and lower levels of serviceable aircraft.

He said other causes are reduction in budgetary allocations and approvals; slow public awareness of the safety of flights post lockdown, delayed regulatory approval for commencement of air flights post lockdown; moderate fear amongst citizens, and use of technology for corporate meetings such as zoom as a veritable alternative to physical meetings.

For John Ojikutu, an aviation security consultant and secretary-general of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), beyond the lockdown, there were few passenger flights as almost all airports were closed. “Commercial activities local and international that could have raised citizens’ spending were seriously affected including oil and fuel prices,” he added.

Also, figures from the data show that airports with the biggest decline in passengers’ traffic in 2020 include Osubi (62.7%), Port Harcourt (52.3%), Ibadan(56.7%), Ilorin (47.1%), Kaduna (45.2%), Lagos (44.9%), Jos (43.9%), Sokoto (43.3%), Enugu (41.9%) and Yola(41.7%).

Seyi Adewale suggested that for these airports to see a rebound in passenger traffic in 2021, airlines would need to incentivize their frequent flyers and agree to interline or code share arrangements to improve passenger experience regarding facilitation, on-time performance, efficiency in connections.

He also advised airports and airlines to follow aircraft maintenance programs or schedules, pay attention to Covid-19 protocols including renewing their HEPA filters as required.

“Airlines should begin to use low capacity aircraft as some have started doing; these can reduce the turnaround time, delays and the cancellations of flights and therefore build passengers’ confidence in the air travelling than the precovid era,” John Ojikutu said.

Adewale is optimistic about the increase in passenger traffic as a good indicator can be gleaned from IMF’s world economic forecast and as it relates to Nigeria, GDP growth forecast has been revised upwards to be 2.5 percent from its initial growth forecast of one percent.

The aviation sector is expected to benefit from GDP economic and growth forecasts.

Reasons for expected improvement in passenger traffic include FG’s investment in infrastructural development, entry of new airlines with new or modern aircraft flying new routes and frequencies thus inspiring air passenger confidence.

Adewale further explained that the high levels of concern in respect of Nigerian road transportation safety and security and the gradual easing of Covid-19 restrictions by the private and public sector is expected to improve passenger traffic.

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