Despite Odds, Nigerian Aviation Sector Shows Resilience

The Nigerian aviation industry in the past seven and half years has not done badly. If anything, the industry has shown resilience and remarkable improvement despite some of the challenges still visible. Taking a holistic review of the industry in 2022, it is safe to safe that it has performed well, writes WOLE SHADARE

Path to recovery

The aviation industry outlook is cautiously optimistic. The last two years had been the most challenging time that aviation has ever faced, but the resilience of the entire sector has been remarkable.

The widely-held belief is that the worst of the COVID-19 crisis is behind us. The globalised vaccine rollout, coupled with a coordinated international effort in managing restrictions has helped to drive a recovery toward 2019 air travel levels.

Sirika

Over the course of 2022, we have seen that the appetite of the human race to take to the skies is undiminished. The question is when, not if, a full recovery will take place.

The sector in Nigeria and other places has remarkably improved as the country’s sector has rebounded with domestic air travel showing that the country has almost reached the pre-COVID-19 level if it has not surpassed it. The ability to surmount COVID-19 and all its challenges have again led to buoyancy despite the fact that there are some critical issues that have as well delayed or hampered the expected progress.

Fleet and route expansion

The progress made in 2022 saw the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) welcome a new airline while about two others are on the verge of resuming flight services. Valuejets, one of the new entrants was established in 2018 as a commercial and charter service provider and commenced operations on October 22, 2022. ValueJet domestic services are backed by an all-Bombardier CRJ 900 fleet of three aircraft. Its latest CRJ 900, registered 5N-BXR was delivered to the airline in early September 2022. Other airlines that have received their Airline Operator Certificate from aviation regulatory body are Xejet-an all business class airline. Nigeria Air, a new national carrier for Nigeria had equally gotten its license and had concluded plans to begin flight services.

The older airlines are not left out of the activities as a number of these airlines in their expansion bid, inked new deals with aircraft manufacturers. The acquisition and delivery of these aircraft would greatly lead to route expansion with travelers benefitting immensely from them.

Recurring aviation fuel crisis

The aviation sector in Nigeria is plagued with jet fuel scarcity and this results in flight delays, rescheduling, and cancellations. Since the beginning of this year, airline operators have consistently battled the perennial monster. This situation got worse in early 2022 when operators threatened to shut down operations if the situation continued. They were forced or in what stakeholders tagged, ‘collusion’ to hike fares by over 100 percent. This was met with condemnation by the public but the carriers stuck to their gun, admitting that the rise in the commodity had doubled the cost of the operation. Just recently, fares are beginning to tumble because of the destruction of monopolies as more airlines are beginning to operate on routes hitherto monopolized by some carriers which are forcing down fares. The difficulty in accessing foreign exchange has brought incalculable hardship to the carriers. They hinted that the situation had seriously impacted their operations.

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Roadmap

While the Nigerian aviation infrastructure deficit may not have been totally resolved, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has invested so much in aviation infrastructure development than any other administration.

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who was made the substantive Minister of Aviation in 2019, hinged the Federal Government’s policy on a roadmap centered on four main areas which include the establishment of a national carrier, the concession of four of the nation’s international airports, the establishment of the Maintenance, Repair and the Overhaul centre (MRO), and lastly, the establishment of the aviation leasing company, which is the aircraft leasing programme.

 

The setting up of the national carrier many said would naturally give birth to MRO and some of the items on the road map. While Nigeria Air had reached 90 percent completion stages, some airline operators threatened by the new airline had put up bottlenecks to scuttle the national project to the consternation of many who believe in the project.

Other key deliverables

Other key deliverables for which notable milestones have been recorded consistent with the roadmap are the establishment of a national carrier, the development of a scheme for the continuous maintenance and optimal use of airport facilities, a proactive strategy for the development of a functional PPP arrangement for further integration of the private sector into the aviation industry.

Lagos airfield lighting installed

The news of the completion of the installation of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos runway 18/L airfield lighting elicited joy among airlines and other stakeholders who had for nearly 16 years lamented about the absence of the very important equipment that had disallowed airlines to land or take off any time after 6 pm.

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For many years, precisely nearly 16 years, the second runway of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, operated without airfield lighting.

For many years, airline operators struggled and mounted pressure on the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to provide light on the second runway popularly referred to as 18/ Left.

The operators and experts in the sector did not relent in their call to save the airlines, particularly domestic carriers, and the enormous amount of fuel they burn to taxi from the wider, longer 18/ Right which international airlines use most of the time.

Murtala Muhammed Airport terminal

Airport concession

The Federal Government has moved ahead with the concession of four of the major airports. The airports are the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, the Portharcourt International Airport, and the Mallam Azikiwe International Airport, Kano. To show its seriousness about the project, Sirika said preferred and reserve bidders had been selected for the concession of Nigerian airports.

The preferred bidder for the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, is the Corporacion America Airports consortium, while ENL consortium has also been selected as the reserve bidder for NAIA.

For the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano; the preferred bidder is also the Corporacion America Airports consortium. There are no reserve bidders for MAKIA yet.

The minister noted that the Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), did not also receive any proposals when the request for proposal (RFP) deadline closed.

The RFP phase of the Nigeria airports concession programme (NACP), came to a close on September 19, 2022.

Airlines trapped fund

Nigeria has been in the news for all the wrong reasons concerning airlines’ trapped funds. The issue got to a head early this year when some of the carriers like Emirates and some European airlines threatened to exit the Nigerian route. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was pressured to pay $245 million out of the $445 million owed to the carriers. The country got a reprieve and continued flight services. Just this month, the President for Africa and Middle East of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Mr. Kamil  Ala Wadhi disclosed that international airlines’ funds in Nigeria had risen to $500 million while the total trapped fund of airlines in Africa stands at $1.1 billion. The situation has made airfares from Nigeria double and unaffordable.

Setback for Nigeria Air, unions back project

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The Nigeria Air which was promised Nigerians by President Buhari was about to take off before it was hit by turbulence. Some Nigerian carriers like Air Peace, United Nigeria Airlines, Azman Air, and Top Brass sought an injunction to stop the airline. They expressed the fear that the partnership with Ethiopian Airlines which gives a majority stake to the most profitable airline in Africa would impact negatively their business. The case comes up on January 16th, 2023.

The carrier is expected to launch a shuttle service between Abuja and Lagos to establish a new comfortable, reliable and affordable travel between these two major Nigerian airports. Other domestic destinations would follow thereafter.

Meanwhilethe Joint Consultative and Negotiating Council (JCNC), an amalgam of four existing trade unions in the Ministry of Aviation has unanimously backed the floating of a national carrier, branding the actions of some domestic carriers to stop the carrier as not only, ‘unpatriotic’ but ‘selfish and wicked’.  

 

Union leaders in action

Director of Human Resources in the Ministry of Aviation, Mrs. Nkechi Nwokocha who represented the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika emphatically said Nigerians want a national carrier, expressing her joy at the various supports the Ministry was receiving for the setting up of the carrier.

President of the Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association (ATSSSAN), Illitrus Ahmadu, President of National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) Ben Nnabue among other union chieftains.

Speaking at the 2022 last quarter strategic retreat with the theme, “Establishment of Nigeria’s National Carrier-Aviation Unions’ Perspective”, held in Owerri, Imo State, Vice Chairman JCNC, Yunusa Abdulsalam recalled that last week, Sirika made overtures to the airline, stressing that it was not too late for them to buy into the new carrier, more than six months after he first made appealed to them on the desirability of the project.

Last line

The aviation industry has come to represent a significant aspect of people’s lives in more evolving ways than was ever imagined simply by facilitating mobility. Despite the odds stacked against aviation in the past seven and half years, the sector holds huge prospects for the airlines, the agencies, and the general aviation value chain while not oblivious of the numerous challenges that the sector still faces.

 

 

Wole Shadare