• Saturday, April 20, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Air passenger traffic rises to 2.04m amid ‘japa’ wave

25 prospective airlines mull operations in Nigeria

The number of passengers who travelled out of Nigeria rose by almost 10 percent last year from 1.86 million in 2022, official data show, amid the exodus of talent from the country, popularly called ‘japa’ wave.

The country saw a total of 15.89 million passengers pass through its local and international airports, down from 16.17 million in 2022.

Stakeholders and travel agents blamed the drop on rising airfares, saying low purchasing power of Nigerians and airlines’ trapped funds are some of the factors that resulted in the decline in passenger numbers.

According to data from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), in 2023, 2.04 million Nigerians travelled out of the country, while in-bound passengers were 1.80 million.

Experts said outbound travel was higher because of the ‘japa’ wave, despite the high cost of tickets.

Seyi Adewale, chief executive officer of Mainstream Cargo Limited, told BusinessDay that looking at Nigeria’s airport and passenger growth trajectory since 2020, it can be inferred that the 2023 drop in airport passenger travel figure is both significant and symbolic.

“Significant because a considerable number of active travellers especially in the lower middle-class have relocated outside the shores of Nigeria without need for repeated travels while others have possibly relocated other family members for reasons such as schooling,” Adewale said.

He said: “In addition, it is significant because disposable income for leisure and pleasure are being eroded because of naira depreciation that has lowered the capacity to get enough FX.

Number of flights into Nigerian airports in 2023

“In part, this makes jobs outside the country very lucrative or attractive. A company driver from Cotonou recently relocated back to his home country because the value of his native country is now higher than that of Nigeria and thus couldn’t justify working in Nigeria and sending back money home to his family.

“The FX related difficulty has impacted negatively on cost of airfares too. Similarly, business travel has been significantly impacted and now businesses are exploring or pushing for cost-saving strategies to remain profitable or competitive.”

He expects a lower passenger figure this year if there is no major intervention to promote air travel.

“Air travel to the lucrative Lagos-Abuja route is now estimated to be N400,000 for return tickets only. Similarly, airfares to traditional routes such as the Lagos-London and Lagos-USA routes go for as much as N2 million or more for economy tickets,” Adewale said.

Airfares have risen by over 400 percent in the past two years as a result of accumulating trapped funds of foreign airlines in Nigeria caused by foreign exchange shortages.

For two years now, airlines blocked low ticket inventories, leaving high inventories to be sold in naira only while the low ticket inventories on most airlines’ websites can only be bought with dollar cards only. This was in a bid to cushion the effect of their trapped funds in Nigeria.

BusinessDay had earlier reported that an economy class ticket from Lagos to London and Lagos to France and most European countries which cost an average of N350,000 two years ago, now cost between N2 million to N3.5 million depending on the airline.

Travel agents who spoke to BusinessDay disclosed that the development has caused a huge shift in travel, making travel now a necessity and no longer a pleasure even for the elites.

Susan Akporiaye, the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), told BusinessDay that the drop in passenger number is expected because of the current exchange rate that has impacted the cost of tickets.

She said: “We all expected that 2023 will be much higher in terms of traffic but unfortunately, what we did not envisage was the rate of exchange increasing. That has seriously hindered a lot of people from moving.

“Nigerians are still travelling but they have scaled down. That scaling down is what has resulted in the fact that passenger traffic in 2023 is lower than 2022. Organisations that have to go for training, events and meetings have to scale down.

“The aviation fuel, the rate of exchange and the trapped funds are the reasons why tickets are high. Airlines have to close lower inventories to sell higher ones. All these put together are the reason why you see the traffic is lower than in 2022.”

The NANTA president however said she was optimistic that the year 2024 would be better, especially with the monetary policies that the present administration is putting in place and policies that drive foreign direct investments.

Olumide Ohunayo, an industry analyst and director of research at Zenith Travels, said the drop in passenger traffic was expected due to the fall of the naira and the removal of fuel subsidy which has reduced the spending power of Nigerians and their ability to travel.

Ohunayo said some companies have posted losses or closed down, and this has affected corporate travel.

He said: “The airline industry was recovering from the COVID-19 effects, when all of a sudden, the airlines’ trapped funds, the depreciation of naira and removal of subsidy all affected purchasing power.

“We have more cargo moving than passengers now. The high inflation rate has also impacted travels. This can however be reversed if the government can provide some palliatives that can cushion effects of the subsidy.

“If we can encourage domestic airlines to fly more international routes, the traffic will increase. Air Peace’s commencement of the London route has affected the price, which will improve the number of travellers. It is very key that domestic airlines begin to participate in international flight operations. We must provide more capacity on international routes.”

According to the NCAA data, some of the foreign airlines recorded an increase in outbound passengers, which were consistently higher than in-bound passengers, except Uganda Airlines, which recorded 21,314 in-bound passengers and 20,371 outbound passengers from the total of 27 flights.

Africa World Airlines (AWA) operated 1321 fights and airlifted 85, 850 passengers; Air Cote’ Ivoire operated 666 flights and 99, 151; Air France operated 494 flights and airlifted 213, 011 passengers and Air Peace operated 1, 358 international flights and airlifted 154, 285 passengers. Asky Airlines operated 1027 flights and airlifted 198,977 passengers and British Airways operated 698 flights and airlifted 309, 107 passengers.

Delta Air Lines operated 349 flights and airlifted 142, 836 passengers; Egypt Air operated 630 flights, recording 170, 929 passengers; Ethiopian Airlines operated 1168 flights and recorded 495, 263 passengers and the Nigerian carrier, Ibom Air, which started operation to Accra, Ghana last year, operated 134 flights and airlifted 7,264 passengers. Kenya Airways operated 340 flights and airlifted 95, 187 passengers; KLM also operated 324 flights and airlifted 167, 626 passengers, while Lufthansa operated 742 fights and airlifted 262, o45 passengers.

Qatar Airways operated 1338 flights during the same period and airlifted 537, 352 passengers and Middle East Airlines operated 108 flights, lifting about 36, 325 passengers.

Other airlines include Royal Air Maroc, which operated 370 flights in 2023 and airlifted 115, 395 passengers; Rwand Air operated 439 flights and airlifted 107, 502 passengers; Saudi Air operated 162 flights and airlifted 91, 227 passengers; South Africa Airways operated 151 flights and 47, 999 passengers; TAAG Angola operated 133 flights and airlifted 18, 195 passengers, Turkish Airlines also operated 427 flights and carried 200, 087 passengers; United Airlines operated 143 flights and carried 57, 255, while Virgin Atlantic operated 348 flights and carried 184, 451 passengers.