Former SAA airplanes find ‘sanctuary’ in Nigeria, others under lease pact

  • Rush for aircraft for Yuletide heightens


Several planes hitherto used by South African Airways have ended up in Nigeria and other places and other places with Air Peace leasing one of the Airbus aircraft recently as part of the two aircraft leased for a short period as a result of the dearth of airplanes in its fleet.

Airlines in various parts of the world are resuming an ever-growing number of routes that were suspended as pandemic lockdowns and travellers’ fears caused a plummet in passenger numbers. And, this month, that has seen two former SAA planes sporting new livery.

Air Peace last week took delivery of an Airbus A320-200s once registered for South African Airways as ZS-AZH.

Air Peace’s Embraer 195-E2

After it became surplus to SAA’s requirements, the plane was kept at the Nîmes–Alès–Camargue-Cévennes Airport in the south of France for more than two years before making its way to the United Kingdom, and now to Nigeria under a lease agreement.

It will likely be used on regional routes and to some routes in the Eastern and South-South regions of Nigeria as traffic tilts towards the areas during the Yuletide.

The second former SAA plane to fly again once registered to SAA as ZS-SXW, an Airbus A3330-200. It was delivered so SAA in mid-2011 and also withdrawn from use in early 2020.

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It was reported to have been stored in a giant American facility during the darkest days of Covid-19, before getting a dramatic new paint job for Air Serbia.

In order to meet the envisaged high passenger demand during the Christmas season when passenger traffic more than double that of the previous months, Nigerian airlines have started acquiring more aircraft to meet the expected surge in passenger movement.

Since 2021 there has seen a recorded depletion of operating aircraft. Since then, stakeholders had expressed concern over the depletion of airplanes in the fleet of operators with indications that there are less than 50 aircraft in the fleet of airlines currently.

Ibom Air

Fast-growing Ibom Air penultimate week added two Airbus A320 to its fleet to boost its operations.

 United Nigeria Airlines spokesman, Achilles Uchegbu, said the airline is expected to bring in additional aircraft very soon, just as Arik had equally concluded plans to acquire more aircraft.

A former Assistant Secretary-General of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) Mohammed Tukur however cautioned airlines about the scramble to get aircraft, stressing that aircraft wet-lease could impact negatively their costs because of the rising dollar.

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“The popular mode of acquisition, which is popular amongst airline operators in Nigeria, is either through wet lease or dry lease that is usually for a very short period that allows airlines to ‘rent’ aircraft from lessors or other airlines who have surplus aircraft and could afford to let them out on either or a short or long leases.

Arik Air

Another airline owner, who equally did not want his name in print, said he wondered how some airline owners are outdoing each other with many wet-leased aircraft, especially for the Yuletide season. He said the huge cost of leasing airplanes could be worth all the investment if there are good returns on such investments because of the volatile unstable exchange rate and availability of foreign exchange.

Tukur, however, stated that airlines needed to engage someone who is too much of a maverick in aircraft financing or leases to always get cost-effective lease options, just as he wondered if the high traffic at Christmas could make up for badly negotiated aircraft leases.

He said it was usually difficult to know if the airlines made the right choices over their deals as many of the carriers’ books are not open to scrutiny and won’t come out publicly to disclose that.

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Not a few are beginning to see the high rate of aircraft acquisition in the last few days as passenger demands are expected to surge during the Yuletide.

While Ibom Air and Air Peace have leased aircraft, others are still perfecting deals for aircraft acquisition. Since COVID-19 broke out, many operators are yet to bring back their airplanes from storage while others have lost a considerable number of their aircraft as they find it extremely difficult to finance aircraft acquisition because they cost so much.

Many of the operators are hit hard by the lack of a good business model, scarcity of Foreign exchange, and the harsh operating environment. Some new entrants are adequately filling the gap. Value Jet and some others that have been licensed by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Dana Air which returned to service after about three months are making the inadequacy of some airlines not to be felt at the moment.

Wole Shadare