By Chinedu Eze
Nigerian Airline operators have urged passengers to expect more delays or cancelled flights as the scarcity of aviation fuel, known as Jet A1, bites harder, adding that scheduled operations may stop altogether, unless more fuel is delivered in the next few days.
Since last week, domestic airlines have faced severe challenges sourcing aviation fuel for their scheduled flights.
THISDAY gathered yesterday that Total, a major supplier of the product, imported two ships of aviation fuel, but was directed to wait until the ships with petrol were discharged. The consequence is that the scarcity of aviation fuel would linger for some time.
In response to the scarcity, foreign airlines have devised means of fuelling their aircraft outside Nigeria and only top up on arrival in the country.
THISDAY learnt that as a result of this, many passengers might not be accompanied on their flights by their luggage, as the foreign airlines are forced to drop the luggage in order to carry more fuel, much to the displeasure of passengers when they arrive their destinations.
“BA takes fuel from London and sometimes they stop in Malta so to avoid refuelling in Nigeria, even though they have a supply contract.
“The other day, Air France came to Abuja and met with Total. They normally take about 60,000 litres, but they asked for 20,000 litres, which is like a top up. That is what most foreign airlines are doing now,” an inside source told THISDAY.
Another challenge the airlines are facing is the delay in trucking the product from Apapa, which could last for hours and when it arrives the airport, airlines would wait for another two hours for the product to settle so that contaminants would not get into the aircraft tanks.
“Yesterday I called Total and they brought fuel from Apapa but it had to wait for two hours to settle down, otherwise residue can get into the tank and possibly cause an accident,” explained a top official of a major Nigerian carrier who added that passengers should stop blaming the airlines for flight delays or cancellations at this time because the situation was beyond their control.
Also a senior official of Arik Air told THISDAY that the airline gives priority to its international flights and provides them with fuel before its domestic flights, because of the image of the country and to prevent the loss of market share to foreign airlines.
“We have kept our New York, Johannesburg and London flights going because there is competition. Everyday we are looking for 850,000 litres to fuel our airplanes. So we give fuel first to London, New York and South Africa flights.
“Our London flight takes about 70,000 litres. But we are an indigenous carrier so we suffer it more and if we go and buy in London, it will be very expensive because we have to buy in foreign exchange.
“So the allegation against us by passengers is unfair. We are not saying we couldn’t do better, but the way we are being accused is unfair,” the Arik official told THISDAY.
Several operators who spoke to THISDAY, expressed concern that if there is no urgent action to supply aviation fuel in the next 36 hours or discharge ships on Nigerian waters, scheduled commercial operations might be jeopardised.