• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Airlines reduce flights into Nigeria on low demand


International airlines are cutting back on frequencies into Nigeria as a result of a slowdown in the number of passengers travelling in and out of the country, resulting from the economic downturn and the high exchange rate.

Emirates Airlines, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) flagship carrier, a few days ago reduced its frequencies to Lagos from two daily flights to one.

This means the airline will have on offer, less than its usual 598 seats to Dubai daily.

This is coming barely weeks after a United States carrier, United Airlines and Spanish carrier, Iberia pulled out of the country.

Iberia’s management said, “Iberia’s decision to leave Nigeria was in response to the difficult times and the inability of the airline to record high load factor as it used to do. The economic crunch bedeviling the nation had depleted the finances of those who otherwise would travel out of the country on business, tourism or leisure.”

The foreign carriers cited reasons of dwindling passengers as a result of low purchasing power and difficulty in repatriation of their trapped funds in Nigeria, among others, for their decision.

Jonathan Guerin, United Airlines spokesman, said, “Repatriation has been a significant issue, as has been the downturn in the energy sector.”

A travel agent who craved anonymity told BusinessDay that Virgin Atlantic which often flies full load to various destinations, now travels with a growing number of  empty seats.

The source went on to say the weekly flights have been reduced from five to about three weekly.

Emirates closed reservation on one of its two daily Dubai – Lagos services, saying the afternoon flight EK781/782 would no longer be available for reservation.

Travelling to destinations such as Dubai, London or the United States this summer is no longer an option for Christian Zejis, Managing Director, 504 auto mobile motors.

“The economy is not friendly this season because the purchasing power of Nigerians has gone down and international airlines are charging higher fees as a result of the current exchange rate which I cannot afford at these hard times,” Zejis told BusinessDay.

BusinessDay’s findings show that a return economy class ticket to Johannesburg from Lagos which sold for between N110, 000 and N130, 000 in 2015, now costs about N180, 000 and N240, 000 representing a 65 per cent increase.

Similarly, a return economy class ticket on the Lagos-London route, which previously cost between N250,000 and N450,000 depending on the class a passenger chooses to fly, now costs between N365,000 and N750,000, representing about 57.1 per cent increase in fares.

The Lagos-Dubai route that in 2015 had a return economy ticket costing between N140, 000 and N190, 000, now costs as high as N330, 000 depending on the carrier a passenger chooses to fly, representing an  increase of about 74.1 per cent.

Emirates originally operated one flight per day from Nigeria to Dubai but stepped it up to two in response to a swell in passenger numbers.

Dubai is destination for many Nigerian businessmen and women, as well as a popular holiday destination and an air travel connection hub for travellers to Europe and America. It also has a growing population of Nigerian students (about 5,000) pursuing tertiary education.

Many Nigerian traders also source their stocks of gold and clothing from there because it is a tax-free zone, which makes the costs lower.

Goods imported from Dubai to Nigeria include household items, pharmaceuticals and building materials.

Emirates flights used to depart Lagos at 2pm and 8pm, but only the night flight is available now at 8:50pm. Nigerian travellers unable to catch the single daily flight will have to travel on other airlines.

Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian Airline and Etihad Airways, are the three airlines that operate into Lagos from the Mid-East and United Arabs Emirates.

Many Dubai route travellers who spoke to BusinessDay expressed concern that Emirates was cutting down on seats in the summer period when traffic peaks and many people are travelling and connecting flights through Dubai.

Emirates is the only airline that flies directly from Nigeria to Dubai.

“I think it’s just for a short period but it’s still not too convenient for travellers, especially me, as I deal in electronics and I can decide to book on their flights anytime. I can’t just do that now because any little time wasted means no available seat,” said John Ibe, a traveller who was at the airport to confirm his ticket.

Another traveller who is a frequent flier on the airline said he had to travel with Etihad Airways some days ago to connect Dubai via Abu Dhabi.

In 2013 alone, more than 12,000 tonnes of cargo, ranging from household goods to pharmaceuticals and construction equipment, were imported into Nigeria using Emirates SkyCargo services.

The airline had in the last 10 years airlifted 2.6 million passengers on the Lagos-Dubai route. It realised at least N22.4 billion in tickets sales in Nigeria in 2012, against the N30.5 billion it earned in 2011, according to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.

An Emirate official who craved anonymity said “Emirates reduced their flight into Nigeria because of the downturn in  the nation’s economy. In fact, you can’t even get cheap flights again, you need a minimum of N400,000 to purchase an Emirates ticket”.

Out of all the airlines going to Dubai from Lagos, only Emirates operates direct flight to Dubai which is its base, while other airlines like Etihad, Qatar Airways, Kenya Airways, Ethiopia and Rwandair stop over at their countries before taking their passengers to Dubai.

About 15 million air travelers passed through Nigerian airports in 2015. The figure for 2014 was about 14million. Analysts say this number may reduce by up to 40 percent with the economic downturn in the country.