Airlines at loggerheads with NASS, list reasons for flight delays

The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), the umbrella body for airlines in Nigeria have expressed dismay statements credited to the Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Smart Adeyemi over reasons for incessant delays currently experienced by travellers in the country.

During a joint oversight visit by the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Aviation to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in Lagos recently, the Senator said that domestic airlines delay passengers for 4 – 9 hours, adding that; “Should the local carriers fail to sit up, foreign airlines would be invited to operate domestic flights in the country.”

In a statement endorsed by Alhaji Yunusa S. Abdulmunaf (President), Allen Onyema (Vice President), Alhaji Shehu Wada – Max Air, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo – United Nigeria Airlines, Capt. Mfon Udom – Ibom Air, Capt. Roy Ilegbodu – Arik Air, Capt. Abdullahi Mahmood – Aero Contractors, Alhaji Faisal Abdulmunaf – Azman Air, Capt. Edward Boyo – Overland Airways, Afolabi Babawande – Green Africa, and Mr. Sukh Mann – Dana Air said such comments and made available to Aviation Metric, they only serve to aggravate sentiments and send out the wrong message to passengers and the general public.

According to them, commercial airlines globally, Nigeria inclusive, are set up with strict adherence to flight times. These schedules are put in place not only for the benefit of customers but also to allow the airlines maximize the use of their aircraft in order to meet up with their laid out targets over a period of time and ensure their safety and sustainability.

 

Nigerian airlines

“It is therefore not in the interest of any airline, whether in Nigeria or anywhere else, to delay or cancel flights as this has severe financial and image consequences. For these reasons, delays and cancellations are therefore the last things any airline wants”.

They noted that while flight delays and cancellations occur all over the world, adding that in Nigeria, 80% of the causes of delays and cancellations are due to factors that are neither in the control of airlines nor caused by them.

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“This is why AON invites the public to be aware that airlines operating in Nigeria are forced to operate in an environment that is wrought with infrastructure deficiencies that are highly disruptive to normal schedule reliability and on-time performance. Any airline in the world forced to operate under the domestic Nigerian circumstances would be bogged down by delays that they have no control over”, they said.

They listed some of the more prevalent causes of delays and cancellations to include, weather, stressing that due to the lack of basic navigational and visual aids at most airports across the country, airlines are forced to delay flights unnecessarily, waiting for visibility to improve either at departure or destination airports.

This, according to them is the major cause of delays in the months of October to March every year (with the harmattan dust haze and fog) hinting that this impacts the entire system significantly.

“Almost every morning, the first flights to several destinations are delayed, affecting the schedule of the airline for the rest of the day. This issue of lack of navigational and visual aids at most of the airports in the country accounts for more than 50% of the delays in the system, for which airlines unfairly always take the fall. This would easily be avoidable if the requisite infrastructure was put in place across the network of airports. Thankfully, airlines will never jeopardize safety, but will rather choose to wait for weather conditions to improve or be forced to cancel flights if the situation persists”.

Other factors according to them are inadequate aircraft parking space due to congested Aprons at both domestic terminals in Lagos (popularly known as GAT and MM2), which are the main hubs and turnaround points for the vast majority of the local industry, are severely capacity constrained to the point of constituting safety hazard to the industry.

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 Lack of planning by the concerned authorities over the years they noted had led to a deficit in airside infrastructure at both terminals, causing aircraft to park in a chaotic manner, where many aircraft get hemmed in by other aircraft.

“Apart from the chaos and unsafe conditions this congestion causes, it results in unnecessary delays as aircraft are frequently forced to wait for other aircraft to be pushed back first before they can depart”.

They listed other factors as restrictions caused by sunset airports occasioned by a deficit in navigational and visual aids, most of the airports in Nigeria are open between 6 am and 6 pm.

 

Nigerian airlines

 

To them, once an airline misses this window as a result of one or more of the above-mentioned delays, airlines are forced to cancel scheduled flights to such destinations.

 The practice of closing the airspace for security reasons to allow the President, Vice President, or other VIPs to either depart or arrive, is a significant causal factor of unpredictable and unforeseeable delays in the system. This is no fault of airlines but yet another delay cause for which the domestic airlines take the fall for the entire system on a daily basis.

Frequent bird strikes and Foreign Object Damage (FOD) damage many aircraft during landing, taxiing, or takeoff at airports across the country, thereby forcing the aircraft to be parked abruptly until a replacement can be marshaled to operate a flight. A lot can be done about this by the concerned authorities, but the airlines again bear the brunt of the failure to address this key issue.

In addition to the primary causes of delays in the domestic airline system highlighted above, there are other ‘systemic’ issues that limit the ability of domestic airlines to operate seamlessly and efficiently.

Some existing Nigerian airlines

Unavailability and the ever-rising cost of aviation fuel – JetA1 today costs above N410 in Lagos, N422 in Abuja and Port Harcourt, and N429 in Kano per litre they stated has continued to rise fast and steadily.

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On top of the continuous rise in the fuel price, the fuel supply they said is at best epileptic at several airports thereby causing delays. Supply nationally is at best unpredictable and several times a day, airlines are standing, waiting for fuel to be supplied at airports across the country.

Unavailability of Forex for spare parts and maintenance has a significant impact on their operations, hinting that airlines carry out most of their activities in dollars which today sells for between N580 to N600 and is in short supply.

To them, Nigeria’s domestic airlines are in a ‘life and death struggle to secure the Forex they need to acquire their spare parts to maintain their aircraft. This they said is a major influence on how quickly a grounded aircraft can be fixed and restored to its flight schedule, which in turn has a huge impact on the schedule reliability of the domestic airlines.

They listed other factors like delays from Customs in the clearing of safety-critical parts, poor air traffic flow, inadequate check-in counters, inadequate screening, and exit points departures, unserviceable baggage claim machines, unruly passengers, unreliable ground service equipment, lack of runway light among others as causes of delay.

AON noted that delays caused by any (or a combination) of the above factors to a single flight in an airline’s flight schedule, also has a correspondingly serious impact on virtually all the other flights planned on the network for that day.

 

Some Nigerian airlines

They urged high-profile and respected public Officeholders to seek information first so that they have the insights they need to help solve the solvable problems that hinder the domestic air transport system. This is what we expect from them.

Wole Shadare