Half Year Review: Defining Year For Aviation In Nigeria

No doubt, this is the year airlines, aviation firms and others are trying to pick the pieces after the devastating effects of COVID-19. It is equally a defining year for Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika to bring to fruition his aviation sector road map, writes, WOLE SHADARE

Huge moment

 Year 2021 and perhaps half year 2021 is expected to define the future of aviation in Nigeria. COVID-19 has disrupted economies and businesses, locked down billions of people, closed borders and brought airlines to their knees.

 The impact of the pandemic on aviation, in terms of financial losses, airline failures, unemployment and global connectivity, is already immense. Airlines, aviation agencies, trade partners, investors among others are counting their losses that have been reduced by re-opening of airspace that have allowed businesses to flow.

 The consequences will include significant and permanent structural changes to the airline industry and its stakeholders. The passenger airlines are firmly in the front line of this crisis and will get most of the coverage in this industry outlook, but their problems quickly cascade down to impact all other industry stakeholders.

 

Aviation Minister, Sen. Hadi Sirika

Slow recovery

Domestic air connectivity in Nigeria, which is still decimated by the on-going COVID-19 is slowly recovering, giving more hope of survival for the airlines. Worldwide, air travel is beginning to pick up, but not at the level it was in the first quarter of 2020 shortly before nations began to shut their airspace due to the devastating effects of coronavirus. Both airlines and passengers expect the COVID-19 vaccine to help the aviation industry to bounce back quickly.

However, analysts at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecast that despite the COVID-19 vaccine and testing procedures rolling out worldwide, demand for air travel would take years to pick up and would not reach the pre-crisis level before 2024.

While COVID-19 crisis may have hit all airlines and by extension the global aviation industry, Nigerian carriers seem to have dusted themselves up. Yes, there are signs that they are hardest hit with low capacity on routes they hitherto operated to with full capacity. Many of them are yet to retrieve their airplanes from different MROs across the globe; a situation that has led to them operating collectively less than 50 per cent of their capacity.

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New strategy, new entrants

Ibom Air, Air Peace, Arik, Aero Contractors, Azman have brought back some of their airplanes from maintenance despite the fact that Air Peace’s fleet which currently do not support the servicing of the market with huge planes are currently grounded. Many of the B737s are either grounded or flown abroad for repairs.

However, Air Peace is re-strategising by acquiring narrow-body, fuel efficient Embraer aircraft. The airline has taken delivery of three EMB-195 aircraft, while many more narrow-body airplanes are said to be on the way.

 Just recently, the Akwa Ibom State backed Ibom Air took delivery of two new aircraft- the A220. The new aircraft are less than two years old.   This is the first time Ibom Air is having Airbus in its fleet. All the other aircraft in its fleet are Bombardier CRJ-900 which have fewer seats. Airbus is bigger and has between 120 and 160 seats. Their purchase may very well signal Ibom Air’s plan to go regional in its operation.

 

Some existing Nigerian airlines

There have been exciting times and hope that with little more effort by the carriers and government, the aviation sector could rebound sooner than expected going by new airlines like United Nigeria Airlines that started operations in the face of the dreadful COVID-19 pandemic.

Other carriers that are at the verge of joining the already existing carriers are Green Africa which have promised so much but yet to take off owing to slow processing of its Air Operator Certificate (AOC).

It is not clear when the carrier plans to commence operations. The carrier recently acquired two ATR airplanes after changing strategy to operate all Airbus fleet. The change of strategy was welcomed by experts who felt that operating larger, fuel guzzling airplanes do not make sense at a time Jet A1 prices are soaring and at a period the market has shrunk as a result of Nigerians’ low propensity to travel amid waning purchasing power.

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Other airlines in the making are Federal Government backed Nigerian Eagle. The Minister of Aviation has vigorously pursued a national airline for the country. While many are enthusiastic about a national airline for the country, others have applied cautious optimism to the new project.

Others like ValueJet, Rehma Air Nigeria, Jet Airways, Kanemi and Cardinal are also waiting in the wings for their Air Operator Certificates (AOC) from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

Depleted domestic market

Already, the existing airlines are not finding the situation amusing because of the depleted domestic airline market which seems not to have shown significant growth simply because of the economic situation which has made air travel into a luxury for many people.

 

Some Nigerian airlines

Next year would really be a defining year for the government especially the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika in crystallizing all his works on airport concession, new national airline and others in his envisioned aviation sector roadmap.

Aviation sector roadmap

The roadmap, according to Sirika, was developed to serve as a catalyst for a comprehensive overhaul of the aviation industry in Nigeria so as to position the country as an air transportation hub within the West and Central African sub-region. The time is here to see all that happen.

Last week, the Minister had told journalists in Lagos at the end of the Airport Business Summit and Expo that it would offer more job opportunities to more people in the industry.

The planned concession of Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt and Kano airports have been received with mixed reactions.

While aviation labour unions have condemned the exercise,  other stakeholders have lauded the initiative,  saying that concession of the airports would boost efficiency and help to provide infrastructure for these aerodromes that need serious attention.

The Federal Government has maintained that it has no money for infrastructure; a situation that has necessitated the invitation of the private sector to manage and maintain airport infrastructure.

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Sirika, while addressing stakeholders noted that there was no need to sell the people’s assets but to concession them in a way that it will be operated with a view to providing more revenue.

 

 

Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos

FAAN-SITA conundrum

One of the black-spots of the sector is the SITA-Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) conundrum on the withdrawal of automation facilities at Lagos and Abuja airports that have led to chaos and a mess at these aerodromes.

Foreign carriers are going through their current predicament because of contractual obligation which FAAN has allegedly failed to honour, leaving SITA with no option than to shut the system.

 The situation has thrown international air travel from the four major airports across Nigeria into chaos as FAAN is still at the teething stage of transiting from SITA to Arlington; the new firm awarded the deal.

The termination of SITA deal without adequate preparation for the deployment of quality and cost effective Common Use Terminal Equipment (CUTE) system has thrown international airlines into serious difficult, forcing virtually all of the to bear the cost of supplying themselves with their own system that allow them to check in their passengers including tagging of baggage among other security identification.

 

Many of the carriers like Delta Air imported its equipment including back-up systems in case anything goes wrong with what it is currently using at the Lagos airport for check-in of their passengers. Enough of the blame game. The government needs to arrest the situation to save Nigeria a huge shame.

Last line

This year and by extension is a defining year for aviation and one that portends the direction the sector would be headed amid how airlines wriggle out of COVID-19 induced hiatus.

Wole Shadare