Chaos At Airports As Airlines’ Capacities Overstretched

  • Carriers lack critical mass to cope with Yuletide passenger surge
  • Operators’ planes flown out for repairs


Airlines to Owerri, Anambra, Port-Harcourt, Asaba, Uyo, Calabar, and Enugu are operating at full capacity as many of the airlines find it extremely difficult to cope with bookings.

Air Peace, Aero, United Nigeria, and some other carriers sensed the predicament their passengers would be subjected to during the Yuletide season. The carriers laid a great plan by acquiring aircraft on short term lease.

Air Peace had in November signed an agreement with Latvia’s SmartLynx Airlines to wet-lease two Airbus A320s. The carrier’s newly acquired Embraer and B737 aircraft were deemed insufficient for the surging traffic.

Aside from that, the carrier had equally deployed its two wide-body B777, a long-range wide-body twin on domestic routes, amid criticisms.

Most of the flights within Nigeria are between one hour and one and half hours. The Boeing777-200LRseats317passengers while the 777 300ER seats 396 passengers, depending on the aircraft’s configuration.

The carrier’s decision to deploy the airplane on domestic routes could be as a result of tackling its passenger volume, despite the incontrovertible fact that it does not make economic sense and one that could impact the bottom line of the carrier.

While the carrier’s decision may not be faulted as it looks at passenger volume, experts said it is not economical to do so because of per mile cost on the aircraft, landing fees, crew, and ground turnaround time.

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According to an aircraft engineer who pleaded anonymity: “Turnaround time because companies lose money every minute an aircraft is on the ground. This is similar to renting a car and not driving it. Many rules involving crew rest and time limitations occur doing short flights.

“A very significant factor is the number of cycles. Each aircraft is designed to fly a number of hours and a number of cycles (one cycle means a takeoff and a landing).  These numbers should be kept balanced. When doing short flights, the number of cycles increases faster than the flying hours, resulting in higher maintenance costs and a shorter life span.

Huge number of passengers turn up for unavailable flights

”Overall, it is slightly expensive to operate 777 on short-haul flights. But good planning can help curb excess costs”.

Just last week, United Nigeria Airlines acquired A320 aircraft to further boost its fleet of aircraft and expand its operations. With this acquisition, the aircraft fleet of the airline has grown to eight.

Spokesman for the airline, Achillieus-Chud Uchegbu, said that with the additional aircraft, the airline would boost its domestic operations and frequencies this December, adding that this would further make connections easier for the travelling public at this time of the year.

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Other airlines that equally acquired aircraft on a short-term basis are Ibom Air, Arik, and Aero Contractors.

A former Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, explained that lack of planning may have a role to play in what is happening, adding that lack of data to know exactly what the traffic would be at this time of the year.

He disclosed that Nigerian carriers need critical mass to cope with traffic, stressing that many of the operators’ aircraft are in different parts of the world with many of them not coming back because of the huge maintenance costs.

He further stated that many of the carriers have gone to lease aircraft on a short-term basis which may not totally solve the problems at hand.

The total aircraft fleet in the Nigerian aviation industry by about six major airlines put together is less than 70; a situation that boldly advertises the precarious airline business in the country.

“We have a situation in Nigeria today where we have too many airlines that are too small, and their market is fragmented. None of the airlines has a critical mass, in terms of fleet or route network to become effective and to make money”, he added.

The President, Aircraft Owners, and Pilots Association of Nigeria/former Chief Executive Officer, Associated Airlines, Mr. Alex Nwuba said the Coronavirus pandemic had made nonsense of planning, adding that there was nothing the carriers could have gone.

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Crowded Lagos airport

He reiterated that the high level of insecurity in the country has made a demand to be very high as the efficiency of the rail system has not made it easier for air traffic at this point in time.

Nwuba further noted that unlike in some climes where travel is pre-booked long before the Yuletide, he admitted that Nigerians make travel plans at the last minute; a situation that makes airfares look expensive as airlines catch on that to hike fares when tickets are purchased at the last minute.

Managing Director of Aglow Aviation Support Services Limited, Tayo Ojuri noted that most times, plans could go awry and expose airlines to what they are presently going through with overcapacity, particularly at this time of the year which he said is not peculiar to Nigeria.

Ojuri described what is happening in many parts of the airports as chaotic as many are stranded as they try to get seats that are not available.

Wole Shadare