Despite the current economic recession and the low value of the naira, some foreign airlines are looking beyond the present economic situation and this has informed their continued operation in Nigeria.
Although at the beginning of the crash of the naira, some airlines had stopped operation into the country, but industry observers said that those airlines that left were really not at the edge of competition and therefore were not recording high load factor before their exit. United Airlines, which only African destination was Lagos did not meet its market target and Iberia in partnership with British Airways considered it economically expedient to stop operation, as BA would always connect passengers destined to Spain.
Recently, Turkish Airlines conducted research on the Nigerian customers to know their preferences, favourite destinations and also looked at how the country could survive and overcome the current economic recession. In order to find the peculiar traits of Nigerian travellers and how to device ways to satisfy them, Turkish Airlines deployed experts to study developments in Nigeria in the last couple of months and after the study, it said that the market remains viable with enormous potential for growth.
The airline also noted that there are factors that could discourage some carriers but see the seemingly negative factors as advantages in the long run. Speaking to THISDAY on the findings, the General Manager, Turkish Airlines Nigeria, Tarkan Ince, said even as the urge to quit the Nigerian market continues to grow in the face of challenges, the European airline has begun moves to expand operations in Nigeria seeing opportunities that may not be so obvious now because of the recession.
Ince said the airline was not unaware of the exit of the likes of Iberia, United Airlines, Alitalia among others, and it is not immune to their problems. “There is a problem with the foreign exchange and the dollar availability in the market is scarce. Taking out the money is a problem for us. All our money here in the country is stuck and I think we are one of those airlines that pay income tax because we don’t have a double tax agreement with Nigeria. “We see that the circumstances that Nigeria is facing at this moment are temporary and we hope it should be temporary. It doesn’t matter how long it takes eventually, but it will be solved.
“And we have power enough to stay on the field, make the investments and stay next to the government and the state giving our full support. Because in the end, Nigeria is a big state, Turkish Airline is a company that can afford to stay and in the end, things will be better for all. “We see these chances of times and the difficulties as opportunities. Though we have to take some precautions but we will remain on the field active,” Ince said.
The General Manager noted that the airline, one of the best in Europe, has continued to expand and Nigeria is part of their plans. According to him, the airline currently flies to 116 countries and 291 international destinations with 339 aircrafts (from 65 in 2006). No fewer than 63.4 million people are to be carried this year alone with revenue of $9.5billion. The airlines said it is currently flying to Lagos, Abuja and Kano, with the plan to extend operations to Port Harcourt and run daily frequency to Lagos. No fewer than 40,000 passengers have been carried from Lagos since the beginning of the year and the projection is 60,000.
“With Turkey’s location, 60 per cent of air traffic is passing over Turkey and we are only getting 2.5 per cent of it. Building the third airport in Istanbul, which will be completed in three phases, it will be able to host about 200 to 250 million passengers. With this, we said we will like to understand what the passengers will want to see and that informs the idea of the report. It is specified for each countries and this is for Nigeria,” Ince said.
The study, conducted by Forsa Institute for Social Research and Statistical Analysis in seven countries, including Nigeria, shows among others that 99 per cent of Nigerian air travellers are cautious about the safety standard of airlines when booking a mid- or long-haul flight. The study also shows that first-class support- before, during and after the flight is essential for the success of any airline.
Out of people surveyed for travel behaviour in Nigeria, 42 per cent have not travelled by plane at all in the last two years, 21 per cent have taken one or two flights, 19 per cent travelled by plane three to four times while only 17 per cent have taken flights more frequently. About 61 per cent of those surveyed indicated that they had travelled short-haul in the past two years. 21 per cent had taken medium-haul flights, and 32 per cent chose a long-haul flight. Passengers indicated that an airline’s reputation is a crucial aspect, with 99 per cent of all those interviewed designating that an airline’s safety record is important for them. This figure is even higher for travellers flying more frequently, and that 100 per cent believed that airline’s safety record is important or very important.
Other passengers also desire a seating comfort and good entertainment. For instance, 98 per cent of the passenger wants to have a friendly, attentive and accessible staff. Apart from this, 97 per cent also wants a clean cabin and lavatory while 93 per cent also prefers wider seat spacing including economy class. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Turkish Airlines, Dr. Temel Kotil, said the study would contribute to creating more diversification and innovation within the Nigerian Aviation business. The 2015 Aviation Trends was conducted in seven countries including; Germany, UK, USA, Japan, UAE, South Africa and Nigeria.