BusinessDay

Night landing equipment, space cramp airlines’ fleet

As airlines commence plans to increase fleet size in 2023, space constraints at Lagos airport and the inability of most airports across Nigeria to carry out night operations are limiting airlines’ utilisation of fleet.

BusinessDay’s investigations show that out of 22 airports managed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), only Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Benin, Enugu, Kano and Kaduna airports have airfield lighting to enable flights to land and take off on or after 6.30pm while others are referred to as ‘day light’ or sunset airports.

Airlines say when aircraft develop technical issues or there is a weather issue making airlines operate behind schedule, the flight time to these airports may be delayed, which means outright cancellations since airlines cannot operate into these airports after a certain time.

With increase in fleet size, airlines’ ability to operate for 24 hours with their increased fleet will be limited as airlines that would have landed at these airports will not be able to, forcing them to land in Lagos airport, one of the busiest airports but with limited space to accommodate aircraft belonging to all airlines.

George Uriesi, chief operating officer of Ibom Air, said the lack of 24-hour flight operations to major routes in Nigeria was impeding the growth of the airlines.

According to Uriesi, last year, the country’s carriers lost an average of N4 million per flight, N12 million on every three flights not operated and N360 million on 90 flights and N4.3 billion annually on every flight lost to sunset airport operations.

He said this restriction has led to a huge under-utilisation of aircraft fleets by Nigerian airlines as against the global industry standards.

“This is due partly because of too many impediments in the operating environment that limit airline productivity,” he said. “These include limited runway availability across the domestic network, multiple operational infrastructure deficiencies, poor organisation and many others.”

However, Rabiu Yadudu, managing director of FAAN, said the agency has met with the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and agreed that all sunset airports must remain so, adding that further extension would not be granted to airline operators.

He said the decision was based on safety and security.

“We have already sat and met with the NAMA team and we have agreed that once an airport is from sunrise to sunset, it has to remain from sunrise to sunset. It is for all stakeholders to respect that particular provision and operate accordingly,” he added.

Already, Air Peace and Ibom Air have disclosed plans to acquire more aircraft in 2023, which would strain the airport aprons, particularly in Lagos.

With 38 operating aircraft, Air Peace has said it is expecting eight brand new Embraer 195-E2s from its firm order in 2019 and additional 15 brand new Boeing 737 Max 8 and 10 Order, as it ramps up plans to strengthen its operations.

“We are also expecting some of our aircraft undergoing maintenance overseas and by the second quarter of this year, they will start returning,” Air Peace said in a recent release.

Ibom Air has concluded plans to acquire 10 additional Airbus A220-300 aircraft before the end of the year 2023.

Ibom Air had procured two aircraft from GetJet Airlines UAB (operating as GETJET), a European aircraft leasing company, on a one-year wet-lease agreement.

The wet-lease agreement, according to the company, was a stop-gap measure undertaken to meet current demands and accommodate growth, while awaiting the deliveries of its 10 brand-new Airbus A220-300 aircraft, an order that was firmed up in November 2021 at the Dubai Airshow.

Airline Operators of Nigeria has since called on the federal government to put facilities in place at these airports to decongest parking space at the Lagos airport, which is the most sought-after hub for domestic airlines.

The operators recently identified inadequate parking space for aircraft on the apron as top reason for ground accidents at Lagos airport.

An equipment of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCO), on Wednesday, rammed into an aircraft belonging to Air Peace at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, thereby disrupting its flight operations.

The airline said this was the third time in one month that NAHCO equipment would be damaging its aircraft.

With plans by Air Peace to commence more international flights and Ibom Air to commence regional operations, space constraints at the international airport are also a concern.

FAAN had three years ago decried the inadequate space at the apron side of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.

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Victoria Shin-Aba, former regional, general manager, South West of FAAN, said the airport has four parking bays for cargo and 14 avio bridges at the international wing of the airport.

She, however, lamented that some of the facilities were being taken over by either unserviceable aircraft or serviceable aeroplanes that were not put into use by their owners.

Shin-Aba said as at the time the airport was opened for operations in 1979, it only operated eight international airlines, two cargo movements weekly and a few domestic operations.

The airport now receives over 16 international cargo aircraft operations weekly, according to her.

Ten months after the new Lagos airport terminal was commissioned, only five out of the 16 foreign airlines operating in Nigeria are using it because the terminal lacks space to accommodate big aircraft.