Foreign airlines have dominated domestic routes in Nigeria’s aviation sector due to the decreasing number of local airlines and their fleet size, LEADERSHIP has learnt.
The development has, therefore, caused stakeholders concerns, especially as the number of local commercial airlines operating in the country has dropped to seven carriers.
It was learnt that as at today, the underlisted are the only commercial airlines operating in Nigeria: Air Peace, Arik Air, Aero Contractors, Dana Air, Max Air, Azman and Overland, with most of them functioning with small aircraft fleet size.
The situation is further exacerbated by the infiltration of foreign airlines which struggle with the indigenous carriers on the domestic routes.
While expressing concern on the depleting airlines and their fleet size, the president of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), Comrade Abednego Galadima, told LEADERSHIP that all over the world, there is a ratio of one aircraft to certain number of personnel that would be employed.
Galadima said that if one does not have the aircraft, then it means that person is simply not in business, adding that more aircraft meant more jobs for the professionals.
The local airlines’ fleet size has been fluctuating, he said, even as he hinted that recent developments in the industry had created a system where some airlines which increased their fleet have augmented those which fleets are low.
The NAAPE leader said: “Air Peace is increasing which is kind of compensating those ones that are decreasing. Azman is increasing and Dana has got two aircraft. Aero is already signing a deal to bring in some more. A lot of Arik’s aircraft have come back. Their fleet came down to about five but they have gone up to about eight or nine now. It is like a dynamic system.”
Galadima further said that the truth of the matter is that for the country’s population, “we need more airlines. That is why we are calling on the government to fast-track this Nigeria Air project. Definitely, that will mean more aircraft to augment whatever is on ground. We are getting good news on that. Definitely, there will be improvement in the number of aircraft in the country. Ibom Air came in and compensated for FirstNation and Medview losses.”
A former commandant of the Murtala Mohammed Airport (MMA), Group Captain John Ojikutu, said that domestic airlines’ fleet had been low and that it was important to equally measure accurately, the figures that were active operationally.
Capt Ojikutu, an aviation expert, said that despite the fact that these figures fluctuate from time to time, particularly with the major airlines, the domestic passengers’ traffic has not improved beyond 11 million significantly for the about 26 nation’s airports, while the international passengers stand at about five million.
He said that South Africa with a population of 52 million has passengers’ traffic of 22 million at its Johannesburg airport, stressing that “it is one thing to assess the domestic airlines’ fleet size and on the other hand to know the figures that are active operationally.
“These are figures that fluctuate from time to time but suffice to say that in spite of these figures particularly of the major airlines, the domestic passengers’ traffic has not improved beyond 11 million significantly. Once between 2012/2015 Arik Air boasted of having over 20 aircraft, Aero 12, Medview, 5, Dana 6.”
Ojikutu further stated that “the passengers’ traffic was never up to 16 million from the 26 airports in the country. Between 2015/2018, Air Peace came in with over 20 aircraft growing to almost 30 but the fleet of the others mainly Arik Air and Aero depleted in 2016 to less than 50 per cent and were taken over by Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) over debts.”
But for the coming of Air Peace with supplementary number of aircraft, Ojikutu pointed out that air travelling in Nigeria would have suffered consequential losses.
He added that though, there were new airlines in operation like Azman and Max Air, the number of aircraft they brought in was far less than what was lost from Arik Air and Aero. The expert noted that the addition from Air Peace barely substituted for the fleet loss from Arik, Aero, Medview, FirstNation, etc in the last few years.
A former president of NAAPE, Engr. Isaac Balami, concurred that the issue of airlines’ fleet was a concern in the aviation industry but stated that Nigeria had experienced a drastic increase in the number of aircraft fleet in the country.
He added that the rush that Nigerians face throughout the festive period of Christmas and New Year was part of the challenges.
On what brought about the drop in fleet size, Balami said that “we had two airlines that used to have over 30 aircraft. About 20 per cent of those aircraft or more were actually operational. But now, we have gotten to a point where those airlines have gone down drastically and they are operating at some point, even less than 50 per cent of their fleet that were actually operational or airworthy and that puts a lot of pressure,” he said.
Balami emphasised that it had come to a point where some airlines fly with aircraft that were not branded in their colour while others find a way to quickly lease aircraft in a short-term to bridge the gap. He, however, pointed out that even at such practices; the fleet size was not still be enough.
Noting that Air Peace and Arik Air have boosted the overall fleet size in Nigeria, Balami said Aero that used to have 15, 12, nine operational aircraft, now struggle with two, three, four aircraft maximum. “This is a serious issue when you look at Medview that at some point had six or more flying. Now, they have about one aircraft or sometimes not flying at all.
“If you look at Dana Air, it also had issue at some point. IRS, Chanchangi are not operational any more. I mean if you go round, you will see that there is so much pressure. The airlines that are used to bridge these gaps are also struggling with C-check, D-check, and hard landing, bird strikes and spare parts,” he said.
According to Balami, these are the issues but the airlines are trying because most of them are able to increase their frequencies just to cover up, while others fly into airports late in the night. “Most of their members of staff work overtime to meet up. It is something that happens once in a year,” he added
The secretary-general of the Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP), Comrade Abdulrasaq Saidu, called on the federal government to fast-rack the national carrier project, stressing it could attract the required aircraft fleet to the country.
Abdulrasaq lamented that even when airports are given to concessioners to manage, Nigeria does not have a national carrier to benefit from the arrangement.
The labour leader said: “When we don’t have enough aircraft to meet up with the operations, there will be flight cancellations and delays. The gap created by the exit of the then national carrier (Nigeria Airways) has not been closed because it was wickedly liquidated. The moribund airline was not owing up to the amount given. Some people conspired against it.”
Abdulrasaq said that “it is better to focus on a national carrier to address the issue of shortage of aircraft, instead of concentrating on airport concessioning. Even when you have very good airports, where is your national carrier that will use them? That is why ANAP maintained that the federal government should focus on a national carrier and infrastructural development in the aviation industry.”
By ANTHONY AWUNOR