By Cosmas Omegoh, Christy Anyanwu and Agatha Emeadi
The Nigerian aviation industry is going through challenging times. Many would call it a rough patch.
Never in the recent past had the sector witnessed astronomical rise in airfares, as well as a corresponding decrease in customer patronage.
According to airline operators, the vicious rise in aviation fuel coupled with naira’s precipitous fall is driving the aviation business aground.
Some regular flyers are unhappy that air fares for 1hour flight have more than quadrupled. Many who cannot afford the new fares are groaning, while the few who can are grumbling. Everyone, passengers and airline operators, are at the losing end.
Why cost of flight tickets keeps rising
While x-raying the current challenges being witnessed by the aviation industry, a senior executive of one of the airlines who preferred anonymity declared: “The aviation industry has taken a new dimension for the worse. Never in the history of the industry have things been this bad.
“Before September 1, 2022, for instance, passengers were entitled to 20kg luggage and carry-on bag of 6kg, but now, the check-in weight is 15kg while carry-on is 6kg. For excess luggage, one extra kg of luggage that used to cost N500 now costs N1,000.
“Again, the rise in cost has been extended to 50kg extra luggage that used to cost N25,000. That now costs N50,000 only. It is unimaginable how these prices skyrocketed.”
He reasoned that “the sharp increase is also as a result of the rise in aviation fuel,” regretting that “early this year, aviation fuel that used to cost N150 per litre now costs N850 only.”
He noted that “though there are other charges that go not to the airlines alone, but to the regulatory bodies as well.
He noted that at the moment, one passenger ticket now sells for N100,000 as against N23,000 it was sold early this year, even when the proceed is not for the airlines alone.
“The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) has a percentage to collect, likewise, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and all the airport agencies,” he pointed out.
Now, what about the maintenance of aircraft? He is unhappy that none of the aircraft seen is manufactured in the country.
“So, when the parts are imported, charges are paid in foreign currencies; then the aircraft is maintained because ours is a regulated industry; as an aircraft is being brought in, NCAA has its record of maintenance and must follow that; it is a due process they must follow.
“Any aircraft that is due for both internal and external maintenance must not be on the roaster to fly the next day. All these have financial involvement coupled with the high increase in aviation fuel.
“Apart from the agencies, there are handlers like SAHCOL and NAHCO that take care of the operations of some airlines like Arik, Dana and Green Africa.
“SAHCOL and NAHCO handle their operations such as check in, and baggage; but for Air Peace, SAHCOL handles their ramp activities like setting of staircase, load and off-loading of bags; they get paid as well. The airline has always been and still is an expensive industry especially with the aviation fuel that is scarce, whose cost is high at the same time.”
He also informed that another angle to the industry’s woes is that “some airlines that sold cheap tickets to attract passengers were owing a lot of money.”
He noted that at some point, the NCAA weighed in to withdraw their AOC due to the huge amount of money they were owing, even though they had started offsetting their bills.
Airline operators’ response
Achilleus Chud-Uchegbu, head, Corporate Communications, United Nigeria Airline (UNA), said that his organisation is soldiering ahead in the face of the realities in the aviation industry.
“We fly because we have customers to serve. At this point, with high Jet-A1 cost and the exchange rate, we can only, but think of our customers and how to provide solutions to their travel needs and not about profit.
“Because we serve to unite people with their destinations, their loved ones and all safely and comfortably, we remain patriotically committed to serving those needs. So, we continue to operate within present industry realities while bending backwards as much as we can to accommodate new realities, but never compromising on safety and all necessary industry regulations.”
A senior official of Arik Air admitted that many people are no longer flying like before.
He, however, said not notwithstanding, they are in business, adding “we don’t have a choice. However it comes, we sail through.”
He further admitted that “people are complaining of high air fares, but I’m saying the fares are not high compared to the challenges of the price of aviation fuel. The cost of aviation fuel that was less than N300 per litre in January this year now ranges between N 800 and N900. Look at the percentage of increase. When you look at this disparity, you find that the tickets are still under priced as it were.
“Normally, the cost of aviation fuel is not supposed to be 40 per cent more that operational cost. You can see that even at that high rate, it is still cheap in Nigeria compared to what we are buying in terms of aviation fuel.
“Now, tell me! What is cheap in Nigeria today? Is everything not a reflection of economic situation of the country? We just pray that there’s a way out of all this.
“What we are experiencing now is global. It’s not just a Nigerian problem; we just pray that there will be a way out of this.”
Recalling how the present harsh aviation regime had affected him, Prince Supo Atobatele, former general manager, Nigerian Air space Management Agency (NAMA) said: “I was supposed to travel to Abuja since last month, but I couldn’t go. I was also supposed to be in Calabar last month, but I couldn’t go.
“Now, the cost of a one-way ticket ranges between N125,000 and N150,000. A two-way ticket costs between N250,000 and N300,000.
“These days, people don’t travel by air much. They prefer to travel by road. More and more people are making use of online transaction rather than travelling.”
He also lamented that “cargo and luggage allowances to passengers have been reduced. Conversely, cargo freight cost for domestic travels has been increased; so it’s all multiplier effects.”
Then he asked? “If you have N250,000 in your account, a trip that is supposed to cost you N50,000 to and fro and that trip will cost you N250,000, won’t you wisely drop that trip, make some phone calls and send all your documents by mail?”
A journalist, Mike Owordi, who travelled to Abuja last week from Lagos told Sunday Sun that he paid for a two-way ticket for N150,000.
“But that was because I made a booking for the trip two weeks before.
“Some people who were on the same fight with me, who bought their tickets on the counter on the same day paid as much as N103,000.”
While expressing his regret, he said: “I cannot really understand where we are headed.
“If things continue like this, I wonder what will soon become of the aviation industry.”
Another air traveller, Jones Awa, who told our correspondent he travelled to Abuja from Lagos also last week, disclosed that he paid N200,000 for a return ticket, lamenting that the situation in the aviation industry is near disaster.
Hear him: “I paid as much as N100,000 for each of the two legs.
“I learnt that some people even paid higher.
“As things are, the aviation industry is facing calamitous times. Disaster is looming if things do not improve.
“My friend who travelled to Abuja a week before said delays and cancellations were gradually becoming the order of the day for the airline operators.
“He said the airlines have to delay their flights and possibly combine them with other flights so as to carry full load of passengers. But we don’t have to blame them anyway. That is the sign of the times.
“When you hear the cost of aviation fuel and how much it takes to operate an aircraft, one has to be patient with them, and pray for safe trip. That is where we have found ourselves.”
Iyabo Jones, a politician, said that she had not travelled in a long while due to the high cost of air fares.
She disclosed that her last trip was on July 22 when she travelled for a burial from Lagos to Ilorin and back.
“That trip gulped about N160,000,” she lamented, adding that “I felt that was a waste of funds. We were four on that trip; and we regretted not hiring a bus for the journey.
“Before, a one-way air ticket to Ilorin from Lagos costed between N19,000 and N20,000.”
Mrs Inyang Denize, an Immigration officer, told our correspondent that a one-way ticket from Lagos to Uyo now costs N100,000.
“Since the fare went up, I have not travelled to anywhere. Nigeria is becoming too expensive,” she lamented.
Travel agent confirms rise
A travel agent, Ignatius Nzenwa, confirmed that ticket prices have astronomically shot up in recent times.
According to him, “there is no domestic air ticket that costs below N80,000 now.
“The last one-way ticket I wrote was for a trip from Lagos to Owerri. It cost N105,000; the same for another one-way ticket for a trip from Lagos to Abuja.”
He also confirmed similar rise in international flight tickets to our correspondent, saying the current trend might be attributed to rise in the cost of aviation fuel and present summer holiday season. He said: “As of two months ago, a two-legged economy ticket to Asia, particularly South Korea went for a little above N630,000. Now the ticket to that region goes beyond N868,000.
“A Business Class ticket to Europe which cost between N1.6 million and N1.8 million previously, now ranges between N2.5-N2.8 million depending on the airline.
“We are aware that this is travel season. People are going and returning from summer holidays. This too affects the airfares. The astronomical increases in the price of aviation fuel are also believed to be responsible for the cost of fares. We cannot wish away the dwindling value of the naira too.”
A passenger who recently flew from London to Lagos told our correspondent that the low customer patronage might as well be affecting foreign airlines as the airliner that brought him was half full.