• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Shrinking fleet, route difference limit Nigerian airlines’ alliance

Nigerian airlines increase fleet, eye AfCFTA’s ‘open skies’
One year after six Nigerian airlines announced an alliance called the ‘Spring Alliance’ to mutually support one another’s operations in order to provide better service to passengers, shrinking fleet size and route difference are putting a damper on the initiative.
The airlines – Air Peace, Azman Air, United Nigeria Airline, Arik Air, Aero Contractors and Max Air – signed the alliance in a bid to work together and ensure that they engage in interline collaboration to protect their operations and improve service delivery to passengers.
The objective of the alliance is to curb flight delays among the six partners, give one another technical support and also ensure that passengers are airlifted by any of the members, irrespective of which airline’s ticket the passengers have.
However, one year after the agreement was signed, passengers have continued to face flight delays and cancellations because member airlines have continued to struggle with a shrinking fleet, which most times cannot cater for their passengers and that of other airlines, when they are faced with flight operations challenges.
In recent times, the foreign exchange scarcity has made it difficult for airlines to quickly carry out aircraft repairs and maintenance, forcing them to ground aircraft, thereby affecting their flight schedules and forcing them to cancel and delay flights.
BusinessDay’s investigations show that about two years ago, local airlines had between 75 and 85 aircraft but they currently have less than 40 in operation, and there are indications that aircraft previously ferried overseas for maintenance may not return due to the inability of airlines to access forex.
Also, not all airlines on the alliance operate the same routes. The difference in routes operated by member airlines make it difficult for other airlines to airlift passengers when an airline cannot operate its flight.
Joshua Akindele, a passenger who recently boarded Air Peace, experienced a two-hour flight delay and when he enquired from the airline representative at the airport why the delay lingered despite the alliance with other airlines, he said the airline representative said the alliance was not really effective because member airlines did not have adequate aircraft to accommodate stranded passengers.
“At the airport that day, I noticed a lot of airlines had delayed flights and passengers kept waiting. We all rejoiced at the news of the airline alliance last year because we thought it was a game changer for both airlines and passengers. It is therefore disappointing to find that the signed alliance is not as effective as it is supposed to be,” Akindele said.
According to a report from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority titled ‘Executive summary on international and domestic flight operations’, a total of 11,321 (over 53 per cent) flight delays were recorded out of 21,295 flights while 308 flights were cancelled in the first quarter of 2023.
An analysis of the report showed that all domestic airlines cancelled flights, with Air Peace leading at 63, followed by Max Air at 56. Arik Air had 43 cancellations, Aero Contractors, 40; Azman Air, 20, Green Africa, 16; ValueJet and Overland had 15 cancelled flights each, while Ibom Air, Dana Air and United Airlines recorded two, nine and five cancellations respectively.
Eleven domestic operators had a total of 10,128 flight delays, with Air Peace accounting for 37 percent as 3,754 (about 60 percent) of its 6,521 flight operations were delayed.
Other local airlines with delays included Aero Contractors, 624; Arik Air, 926; Azman Air, 385; Dana Air, 472; Overland Airways, 605; Ibom Air, 746; United Nigeria Airways, 910; Green Africa Airways, 443; and ValueJet, 248.
Achilles-Chud Uchegbe, head of corporate communications at United Nigeria Airlines, told BusinessDay that the alliance agreement was still working, adding that the challenge faced by the airline was route difference.
“Air Peace helps us airlift passengers when there are issues. Xejet Airlines also does this for us. When we have challenges where our aircraft cannot fly, we move our passengers to Air Peace and they fly. Most of our routes are almost the same routes Air Peace flies. If I am not flying to Sokoto for instance, I can’t partner with an airline that doesn’t fly to Sokoto,” Uchegbe said.
BusinessDay’s findings show that United Nigeria Airlines flies to Lagos, Abuja, Asaba, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Yenagoa and Enugu.
Azman Air operates flights to Kebbi, Yola, Maiduguri, Kano, Kaduna, Abuja and Lagos. These route difference makes it impossible for both airlines to airlift passengers when there are flight operation issues.
However, Seyi Adewale, an aviation analyst and chief executive officer of Mainstream Cargo Limited, told BusinessDay that the alliance appears not to be fully utilised due to infrastructural concerns including ICT capabilities, funding to support the alliance, and number of cancelled flights by all parties.
He said: “I will particularly highlight the ICT needs for it to work: what will be the platform used to interface? Is it developed, robust and enabled by airline partners; are they willing to invest jointly in its development, how ready are airport authorities and owners to invest as well with simple LCD/LED Screen to display or map passengers with clear information (system)? Without these due diligence, it may not work.
“Importantly too, the airlines have varying capacities; imagine if Air Peace cancels one of its big aircraft, which or how many can accept the number of passengers onboard without causing additional disruptions to the accepting carrier probably having a lower capacity?”
He also stated that the routes operated by member airlines are disjointed, with no water-tight schedules.
He added that the major issues are bottlenecks and bureaucratic processes to execute policy seamlessly on the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) platform.
“I believe the airline association should work together in a non-compete manner to get all commercial airlines onboard the NCS system without many bottlenecks and civil service bureaucracy. If this happens (all domestic airlines enabled on NCS clearing platform on zero percent duty and vat), it will strengthen capacity to deliver value to their passengers,” he added.
He said other reasons for the failure of the airlines’ alliance include the lack of financial capacity to execute block space codeshare with one another, varying fleet sizes, high disparity in customer base size, and disparity in route coverage and frequency.
Kingsley Ezenwa, media and communications manager at Dana Air, told BusinessDay that what most airlines do now is really not code-share but protection where airlines that can’t fly transfer their passengers to other airlines.
According to Ezenwa, Dana Air does this with Max Air, Azman and Aero.
He said: “For instance, if we have 30 passengers that we can’t airlift to Abuja, any of these airlines will give us 30 seats and then we do reconciliation. For this to happen, it means the airline must be going the same route with us.
“If a particular airline has to fly from Lagos to Abuja by 12pm and they can’t fly and Dana has a 1pm or 2pm flight that is closest to 12pm flight, they come to us with their 20 or 30 passengers and we carry them if we have seats on the flight. This is how it works. If we have a 2pm and 4pm flight and the passengers are many, we can spread the passengers between the 2pm and 4pm. The remaining passengers can go to other airlines where they have the same existing partnership.”