• Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigerians face tortuous travel experience as government, airlines benefit from ‘evacuation’ flights

Local airlines should not die

Federal Government and its partner airlines may find it difficult to give up the fortunes they are making from frustrated Nigerian travellers to various parts of the world, especially Europe and the United States, despite the challenges they face getting to their destinations as the country’s airspace remains shut.

Although, Hadi Sirika, minister of aviation, in his Twitter handle @hadisirika Monday, stated, “Glad to announce the resumption of international flights from the 29th of August, 2020. Beginning with Lagos and Abuja as we did with the domestic flight resumption. Protocols and procedures will be announced in due course. We thank you for your patience.”

But, since the past five months, the country’s airspace had been shut to international travellers in a bid to curtail the spread of COVID-19, but the Federal Government had allowed for special flights, one of which is the evacuation flights.

Checks by BusinessDay show that people have been travelling out of the country, as scheduled commercial flights are simply dubbed ‘evacuation.’ The exorbitant airfares for ‘evacuation’ flights have forced some Nigerians to leave for Cotonou, Togo and other neighbouring countries, seeking affordable tickets to fly out.

Various travel companies have since launched private charter evacuation flights from Lagos to London, Europe and USA. These charter flights cost between $3,000 and $5,000. With the black market exchange rate hovering between N475 and N477 to a dollar, passengers have had to pay as high as N1.4 million to N2.3 million for a one-way flight.

While other countries have opened their airspace to international flights, Nigeria has continued to delay as the airlines and government benefit from exorbitant amounts charged for evacuation flights.

Ethiopia Airlines, Emirates and top charter flight operators appear to be the greatest beneficiaries of commercial-evacuation flights with several evacuation flights carried out through these airlines with the aid of the government.

As fewer airlines conduct these evacuation flights, passengers are subjected to tortuous travel experiences where airlines have to connect to various countries, and some passengers could stay as long as seven hours inside the aircraft at connecting countries waiting for take-off time.

Experts say this can only happen when passengers have very limited choices and are desperate to travel.
Checks further show that the government’s facilitated evacuation flights cost $2,000. With the current exchange rate of N477 to a dollar, passengers have had to pay N954,000 for a one-way evacuation flight.
However, aviation stakeholders have continued to wonder why the government has failed to open the airspace while the elite fly in and out of the country.

According to the checks, airlines pay between 35 percent and 40 percent of a ticket cost as taxes and charges that come under the guise of statutory levies in addition to other charges. These agencies at the airports are –The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), among others.

“UK government has been subsidising their evacuation flights. For instance, British Airways evacuation flights have been lower than its commercial flights, but in Nigeria, the evacuation flights are not only high but are practically commercial flights.

“We see no reason for the delay in re-opening the airspace. Is there something the government is not telling us? Is the government benefiting from these evacuation flights?” an indigenous travel agent who craved anonymity says.

The travel agent notes that even though she does not believe that there is an agreed sharing formula between the government and the airlines conducting these evacuation flights, as many allege, airlines pay mandatory charges to the Federal Government.

These include 5 percent ticket sales charge, 5 percent cargo sales charge, 5 percent Value Added Tax (VAT), passenger service charge, charter sales charge, aircraft inspection fees, simulator inspection fees, landing charges, parking charges, “terminal navigation charge, en-route charge, fuel surcharge, airport space rent, electricity charges, and apron pass, ramp access charges, ODC and a newly imposed registration fee all of which are paid to government agencies.

A Nigerian who left the country last week through Murtala Muhammed International Airport Lagos made lots of shocking and pathetic revelations to BusinessDay.

In his comment, “Who did this to our country? I never knew that people have been travelling out of Nigeria till I got to Lagos Airport. Imagine, I came into Nigeria in March and was held up by the lockdown. I stayed five months doing nothing, no work, no business but just spending money in hotel accommodation and sometimes in my home town not minding the scary security situations.

“It got to a point, I could no longer bear the burden coupled with the fact that I needed to reunite with my immediate family in the US. In my constant communication with my wife, I was meant to know that people were actually travelling out of Nigeria. When I was finally ‘linked up’ with the contacts, I was made to understand that Airline (name withheld) operates international flights out of Lagos twice a week.”

He went further narrating, “I was also given the options of travelling from other destinations – Cotonou and Togo. Because I didn’t know how to get there, I chose to travel from Lagos Airport. Even after paying about N1.1 million for one way ticket, I still never believed it was real till I got to Lagos Airport for the trip and saw the aircraft also on ground (airline name also withheld). When we finally boarded the flight for a supposedly two-day journey to the USA, we ended up spending four days.

“Surprisingly, the aircraft went to land in Dublin Airport. There, we were asked to remain in the aircraft for seven hours before we again took off and finally landed in Washington DC (though still not my final destination). There in Washington DC, I had no option but to spend another $600 to connect to my destination (name also withheld).”

When asked why they stayed inside the aircraft for seven hours in Dublin Airport without disembarking, he simply says, “My dear, if you are in my shoes, you will simply do the same thing. As I talk to you, there are many people stranded in Nigeria who are at the risk of losing their jobs, families, work permit, visas, etc. There are children whose mates are in classroom studying here but they are held up in Nigeria. Many people are travelling out of Nigeria and many stranded people are also willing to travel out. If you have your money you will travel.

“In US here, which is one of the epicentres of the Covid-19 pandemic, the airspace is not shut. They only issue travel advisory warnings less than 10 years and above 60 years. How can Nigerian government be deliberating undoing the economy? Look at the economy; look at the dollar/naira exchange rate, or do I talk of the local airports that were recently opened – how many people are flying. It will be difficult for the local airlines to break even this period because the international flights are more like feeders for the local airlines. I doubt if the president is aware of the harm being done to the Nigerian economy.”