Nigeria missing in Africa’s airline traffic ranking
Despite Nigeria’s large population and natural geographical advantages, its airlines are missing out on processing more of passenger traffic within Africa.
Experts say absence of international partnerships, a vibrant national carrier and data sharing among airlines and global aviation bodies have restricted Nigerian carriers to local competition, while Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco and others rake in millions of dollars from passenger traffic within Africa.
A recent data released by the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) on African airlines ranking by traffic show that Nigeria is missing as regards domestic, intra-Africa and international traffic.
Airlines that top the list with the highest passenger traffic for domestic, intra-Africa and intercontinental flights include Ethiopian Airlines of Ethiopia, Egypt Air of Egypt, Royal Air Moroc of Morocco, Safair of South Africa, Kenya Airways of Kenya, Air Algeria of Algeria, Air Arabia Moroc of Morocco, Tunisair of Tunisia, Mongo Airlines of South Africa and Comair of South Africa.
In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ethiopian Airlines carried more than 13.3 million passengers that year.
Egypt Air carried almost 8.9 million passengers in the year to May 2019. The Star Alliance member is one of the largest airlines in Africa and currently flies to more than 70 destinations around the world.
From its base at Mohammed V International Airport, Royal Air Moroc of Morocco operates a domestic network in Morocco, scheduled international flights to Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America, and occasional charter flights that include Hajj services.
On the other hand, 22 domestic and international carriers operating in Nigeria put together are able to process between 13 and 15 million passengers annually, almost equivalent to what only Ethiopian Airline processed.
Checks by BusinessDay show that Air Peace, Nigeria’s largest carrier, processes about 35 percent of the passenger traffic in Nigeria.
While majority of the 10 highlighted African carriers with the highest traffic are government-owned or government-backed entities and a few others wholly-owned or affiliates to international airlines or bodies, experts argue that domestic carriers can only play in the international league if they could partner big airlines to get the backing and funding that could enable them get a fair share of international traffic.
Nigeria has continued to lose out because it does not have a government-owned or national carrier that can fully benefit from bilateral agreements and reciprocity related issues, such as getting landing permits or slots in other international airports and destinations, Seyi Adewale, CEO, Mainstream Cargo Limited, says.
Adewale also notes that local airline operators do not have aircraft that can fly long hauls, and the ones that have attempted to do not have the financial power to maintain such routes on a long-term basis, although they are learning quickly.
“For domestic passenger consideration, our local airlines do not have interlined agreements as was with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Nigeria,” he explains.
For instance, ComAir feeds from British Airways international flights and is part of the One-World Alliance and utilises this advantage when the need arises.
Furthermore, Mango Airlines is a low-cost carrier part of South African Airways.
The government-backed airlines enjoy some form of grants, subventions and opportunistic privileges; whereas the international affiliated airlines ride on the opportunities provided by their parent partner or owner.
“Primarily and in my opinion, Nigeria needs a National Carrier to quickly achieve the passenger traffic results and its local carriers need to procure or lobby government support in order to actively bargain good slots on international routes,” he suggests.
Among Nigerian domestic carriers, Air Peace is the only carrier currently operating international flights to Dubai and South Africa and some West African countries.
Medview Airline, which commenced the Dubai route about four years ago, barely operated the route for a few months and suspended the route citing depleting fleet.
Arik Air once operated flights to Johannesburg, New York and London but could not sustain those routes.
Experts say these airlines failed to sustain international operations because they did not get the needed government support, and did not have partnerships with reputable international airlines.
For Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst, the failure of Nigerian airlines to share data on their traffic and performance with global aviation bodies and global sites has left many of the airlines still struggling to feed local routes.
“The recent data released by AFRAA show that Nigerian airlines cannot operate alone and expect everybody to see them. A South African comes from South Africa to Nigeria and has to stop in Nairobi for two hours to connect flights to Nigeria because he does not know a Nigerian carrier operates direct flight from SA to Nigeria.
“When you are not on global websites, you don’t submit your data, you don’t show your schedules so that everybody can see it, then you are not helping your business,” Ohunayo explains.
The world is moving with data, information and social media and global sites generate traffic and figures that people use to analyse performance and know capabilities of airlines, he says.
Even data from Nigeria’s aviation regulatory authorities are not being taken seriously because the figures are not accurate, he notes, but suggests airlines improve their appearance on social media outlets and on aviation data services organisations and be members of AFRAA in a bid to access subsidised aviation fuel and maintenance.
He however commends Ibom Air and Dana Air on their interline partnership that would result in increased visibility and available seats, and more airlines can learn from this initiative.