Azman suspension, Max Air service stoppage free space, ‘eases’ glut

  • Aero, Arik short of planes for expansion
  • Nigerian aviation market under served

The suspension of Azman Air, albeit temporarily by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority NCAA) over gross violation of air safety may have widened or opened the space for some other airlines that ply many of the strategic routes by the grounded carrier at least until the suspension is lifted.

Aside Azman that is suspended, Max Air is temporarily out of service. No one knows the reason for cessation of operations, the fact that these carriers are out of the scene could make way for others to fill the vacumm.

The airline began its operations with two B747-400  aircraft for its Umrah and Hajj  operation services. In June 2018, Max Air began domestic operations to three destinations which included Abuja, Lagos from the airline’s main hub (Kano).

 On November 1, 2018, Max Air announced two new routes to its domestic operations which included Port-Harcourt and Yola as part of its expansion drive. On November 5, Maiduguri route was launched by the airline, making it the 6th domestic destination to its operational routes.

Not much has been heard about the airline since Federal Government announced gradual opening of the airspace as a result of serious impact of COVID-19 pandemic.

It is unknown if the financial situation of COVID-19 through cash burn is responsible for the epileptic operations of the carrier.

Aviation Metric gathered that Azman has begun the move to correct all of the snags noticed by the NCAA that necessitated a clamp down.

Azman operates many destinations within the country. It operates to Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Gombe, Sokoto, Birnin Kebbi, Abuja, Asaba, Benin, and Owerri.

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Operating airlines, it was learnt are strategizing on how to maximize the opportunity offered by Azman Air’s situation to deploy more airplanes to the route at a time there seems to be a glut on many of the routes like Abuja, Lagos, Asaba, Port-Harcourt, Kano, Owerri that are said to be popular among airline operators.

Virtually all the existing airlines operate the ‘popular and lucrative’ route amid dwindling passenger traffic and poor purchasing power of many Nigerians; a situation that highlights very few Nigerians travel by air.

Statistics from Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in 2019 which put domestic air travel as nearly 11 million passenger traffic shows that less than six per cent of a population of nearly 200 million travelled by air.


Azman’s B737 aircraft

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation and put airlines in serious dire straits. The sector is heading into ‘northern winter,’ traditionally when demand is lower and yields weaker. This year, there is greater economic uncertainty. Operating and financial environment could see more market exits.

With a glut on the route, this could engender competition and help to force down fares. Competition is a natural result of many players in an industry. However, as profit oriented actors, airlines will not venture into an industry where there is low propensity to fly.

President, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Nigeria, Mr. Alex Nwuba said that generally, on the major routes, everybody concentrates on Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt which is said to be Nigeria’s triangular routes.

Nwuba further stated that what Azman did was to cleverly branch off to other popular Northern routes, saying that made the carrier to be popular on the routes.

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His words, “The question now remains that those routes that they operate, if you leave them, who serves them? On the route they share with Air Peace, clearly Air Peace can go in there. In the Northern part, they all like Azman.

“It is now left for Air Peace to pick up on that. If you look at it, the Northern part is where Arik is strong but it is unfortunately down to one aircraft and with Aero having its issues and with Azman out of the route.  They are very popular on the routes; it gives them additional capacity on those routes”.


President, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Nigeria, Mr. Alex Nwuba

Nwuba who was a former Chief Executive Officer of Associated Airlines, asked, “Do the airlines have the assets available to go to the routes they were not flying before? It is not so easy now because there is serious unavailability of aircraft and that is where the problem is”.

He disclosed that the market is constrained by the number of available aircraft to use despite new entrants that come into the aviation industry.

“They have opportunities where Azman has exited, either to capitalise on it or maximise it. We have new entrants like United Nigeria that have capacity, would they have capacity to operate to Maiduguri and so on?


Max Air’s B737 airplane

He reiterated that Air Peace is in the best position to capitalise on that but described it as “very unserious and laid back”.

Former Chief Executive Officer of Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi said when an airline leaves the scene or stage; it creates a vacuum that others may be willing to fill up.

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The Nigerian market according to Sanusi is already down with air travel going down considerably, adding that demand has not met airline supply.

According to him, “The domestic market is under-served and the number of aircraft is not meeting the demand. Air Peace is in the best position to fill the void created temporarily with the suspension of Azman. They have new aircraft and they plan to bring in more. These are the types of things we look forward to for the development of the aviation industry”.


Former Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi

Nigerian airlines are small, with fleet sizes as low as four aircraft for some airlines. The actual market is equally small. Although market potentials exist along several under-utilised air corridors, the smallness of airlines does not permit them to explore these potential routes.

 Airlines may not be able to break even given the low load factors that are likely on such routes. Small size of carriers also constraint capacity to offer frequencies, compete on regional and international routes. Nigeria’s domestic airlines are therefore not strong players in the international and regional markets.

Air fares are said to be on the high side. The most trafficked route on the network, Lagos-Abuja has an average fare of N30, 000 per passenger for an hour flight. This translates to about $83 at the current rate per passenger.

Wole Shadare