Nigerian air travel in the time of pandemic
Airports across Nigerian 2020 saw a sharp decline of 46 percent in passenger traffic as a result of the huge impact of COVID-19.
Following a shutdown of airports starting in March and lasted for five months, airlines were forced to park over 120 aeroplanes losing an aggregated N10 billion monthly as a result of the pandemic. This implies that in five months, airlines lost N50billion because there were no passengers to fly. All airports in Nigeria were closed to domestic and international flights except for emergency and essential flights.
Data exclusively provided to Businessday by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN), shows that passenger traffic fell by 46 percent from 17,761,455 in 2019 to 9,426,297in 2020.
Passenger traffic at the 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 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.
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 were expected as a result of the lockdown. He also pointed out factors such as the 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.
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.
Summarily, the data shows 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 codeshare 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 PRE-COVID era,” John Ojikutu said.
Adewale is optimistic about an 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 these 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.