Nigeria’s aviation sector is sliding steadily into lean and difficult times and may indeed grind to a halt if nothing strategic and definitive is done to save the situation.
With the return leg of the New Year rush, it became evident that the fast depleting fleet in the sector is inadequate for the teeming potential travelers. This is leaving hundreds of travelers stranded and frustrated at airports across the country.
The pang is even sharper as the country’s middle class, comprising people who can afford air travel has been witnessing exponential growth in the past few years, due to an expanding economy.
Industry experts belief that by the time Nigeria’s domestic air travel figures for 2013 are compiled, they will likely drop significantly from 2012 figures. They add that the case might be similar or worse for 2014 if nothing is done to address the local aviation sectors problems.
There are reasonable estimates that about 250,000 Nigerians with cash in their pockets would have wanted to travel by air over the Christmas and New Year periods in 2013. They say however that many of these could not find seats due to low capacity of domestic carriers.
Half of Nigeria’s domestic airlines went out of service in2013 alone. In January 2013 the country had ten domestic airlines. As at December, only five were still flying.
Local airlines operating in the country as at January 2013 are Arik Air, Dana, Aero, Medview, Chanchangi, IRS, Afrijet, FirstNation Airways, Overland Airways and Associated Aviation . Of these, only Arik, Aero, Medview,Fist Nation and Overland are still operational. The 73 aircraft on the fleets of the airlines at the beginning of 2013 have consequently depleted to 46.
The problems of the industry are myriad. Among the bottlenecks are: lack of operational funds; unavailability of major maintenance facilities; high cost of aviation fuel, as well as comparatively heavy taxation by the country’s aviation agencies. Experts are of the opinion also that local operators have difficulties raising funds, as a result of low investor confidence arising from poor safety records, among others.
Foreign aircraft leasing companies are also not willing to let out their aircraft, for the same reasons, it is said.
The situation is so bad now (during the New Year rush) that some airlines delay flights by up to five hours because of aircraft shortages, leaving the departure halls brimming with disappointed passengers, many of whom eventually resort to road transportation. Even with these frustrating air trave l service , ticket prices are continue to rise.
To meet current air travel demand, analysts project that the industry would require at least 100 short to medium range aircraft.
We recall that in 2012, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) recorded 14.3 million passenger traffic, as against 14.9 million in 2011.
There seems to be an absence of a strategic thinking and plan in the airline business. Operators rather than foresee difficult times and plan to avert such by consolidation or merger schemes, allow their operations to grind almost to a halt.
With domestic operators experiencing difficulties in meeting local travel schedules, analysts foresee the likely in road of foreign airlines into some busy and highly lucrative routes in the years ahead. For the travelers, this may ease off their travel pains.
The danger inherent in having an industry replete with weak operators and inadequate fleets is the temptation to compromise safety in the bid to cut corners in order to stay afloat.
Relevant regulatory agencies in the aviation sector must understand properly the evolving dynamics in the industry and intervene appropriately in a proactive manner rather than wait to wield the big stick when the damage has been done usually with colossal loss to the country.