• Monday, July 22, 2024
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BusinessDay

Fully-booked flights but no planes to fly

Fully-booked flights but no planes to fly

…Aircraft shortage turns passengers to ticket scavengers

…Planes grounded on high costs

In the last few months, only few airplanes have been deployed to serve domestic route passengers as Nigerian airlines struggle with fleet reduction owing to high cost of maintenance.

Some airlines have sent their aircraft on maintenance, but they are unable to return them due to the skyrocketing maintenance costs fueled by the foreign exchange crunch.

Others have been forced to ground their aircraft by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for their inability to send them for maintenance, thus reducing airplanes available for passengers.

In addition to these, the grounding of Dana Air, a relatively low-cost carrier which had six aircraft in its fleet, has also impacted the fleet operating the domestic routes.

Read also: Airlines cancel, delay flights over heavy downpour

Routes previously operated by Dana Air have seen increases in ticket costs.

The Lagos -Abuja route has seen more passenger glut than others as airlines, which charged between N60,000 to N80,000 three months ago, now charge as high as N200,000 or more for a one-way economy ticket on the route. With no other choice, passengers have had to cough out the sum.

On Tuesday, passengers who tried to book flights from Lagos to Abuja for Wednesday could not get flights, as all airlines were fully booked.

On Thursday morning, Valuejet operated only two flights from Lagos to Abuja with one flight at 6:45am and another at 7:30am.

Similarly, passengers could not get flights from Anambra to Abuja on Thursday.

On Thursday, airlines sold a one-way economy ticket on Asaba to Abuja route for as high as N175,000, an increase from about N70,000 three months ago.

Data obtained by BusinessDay from NCAA on Thursday showed that 13 domestic airlines operating in Nigeria, including Aero, Air Peace, Arik, Azman, Dana, Green Africa, Ibom Air, Max Air, NG Eagle, Overland, Reno Air, United Nigeria Airline and ValueJet put together operate a total of 91 aircraft. This data includes aircraft that have gone on maintenance.

Sources close to the NCAA told BusinessDay that apart from Dana Air that has been grounded, more than half of the 91 airplanes have gone on maintenance, putting a strain on the few operating aircraft.

BusinessDay’s checks show that five years ago, when just 10 domestic airlines operated on Nigerian routes, they had over 120 fleet.

Travel experts say the reduction in aircraft has made travel exclusively for the rich and created monopolies on certain routes.

“If you walk up to any counter at the domestic airport terminals and you don’t have a minimum of N200,000, you may not get a seat.

“Surprisingly, some of the airlines now tell you that they are selling premium economy to you, whereas there is nothing like premium economy. They sell you the business class and when you get onboard the aircraft, you’ll see that it is an economy class that has been sold to you,” Olumide Ohunayo, an industry analyst and director of research at Zenith Travels, told BusinessDay.

Ohunayo said the situation has been a problem that is ongoing and has continued to happen on routes where Dana operated.

Read also: International flights undisrupted as unions again shut down local airports

“The withdrawal of Dana’s license and the grounding of aircraft that can’t go on maintenance due to lack of foreign exchange have led to reduction in fleet size.

“The grounding of Dana is a major problem. We need to find a way around this capacity problem and seats available. The passengers have not increased, but the supply of aircraft has dwindled. The passengers are really suffering during this period,” he said.

Ndukwe Ginika Ogechi, chief executive officer, Geena Travels And Tours Ltd, told BusinessDay that in the last few weeks, ticket prices have continued to increase while seat capacity dwindles because there are no aircraft to service underserved routes.

“My clients have been complaining because it has been difficult to get flights going to destinations such as Asaba, Enugu, Owerri and some northern destinations, as the airlines which previously operated two or more flights to these destinations may either operate one daily flight or not have any flight at all,” Ogechi said.

An airline operator who would not want to be quoted told BusinessDay that the reason flights are fully booked in recent times is as a result of capacity issues.

A source at Air Peace said the airline understands the situation and is trying to provide more flights to some domestic connections once some of the airline’s aircraft return from maintenance checks

“The Abuja route is the most flown route in Nigeria, as there is also the plethora of business opportunities attached to the destination, ranging from major business summits this month and political events,” the source added.

Airlines sell tickets in naira but pay for spares, aircraft maintenance and insurance premiums in dollars. They are facing higher operating costs as the naira has depreciated significantly against the greenback on the official and parallel markets.

When the naira-dollar exchange rate was N400/$, airlines paid between N200 million and N400 million to carry out C-check. But with the current exchange rate of about N1507/$, airlines have to pay between N800 million and N1.5 billion to carry out C-check on a single aircraft.

Airlines were already paying high insurance premiums due to the country’s perception as a high-risk operating environment and the alleged high insurance premium demanded by local insurance firms in Nigeria.

Read also: Airlines cancel, delay flights as unions shut entrances over strike action

BusinessDay’s findings show that while Nigerian airlines pay eight percent to 10 percent of the value of a piece of aircraft to insure one, carriers that operate in Ghana, South Africa and other African countries pay two to three percent.

Also, airlines operating in Europe and the United States pay 0.5 percent to 1 percent to insure the same aircraft.

Airlines operating in Nigeria pay an average of $1 million annually to insure a B737-300 aircraft while those in Ghana or the US pay between $200,000 and $300,000 to insure the same aircraft type. With the increase in exchange rate, airlines pay higher for the cost of insurance.