Another week of chaos, losses for operators, passengers nationwide
Fresh scarcity of aviation fuel at airports nationwide has again called to question, the ability and willingness of the authorities to revive the ailing industry. WOLE OYEBADE and CHIKA GOODLUCK-OGAZI report
Aviation sector around the world has a reputation of being the fastest, safest and the most reliable means of transportation. But there is at least a clime where that position may not be true, Nigeria.If the mood at major airports nationwide is anything to go by, then the local aviation sector may just be one exception lacking the said global reputation.
Experience of passengers in the last one-week was such that drew tears from eyes of even the rich. The journeys of about one hour started taking one day, two or even more.The Attahs, a family of six from Akwa-Ibom state, were in Lagos for a wedding ceremony at the weekend and due to return 3pm Sunday. Flying into Lagos from Uyo was itch-free. The return trip was entirely a different experience.
After five hours of waiting among scores of passengers at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos, on Sunday, message reached them that the flight had been cancelled. Indeed, it was an unusual Sunday afternoon where all outbound flights were cancelled at the GAT, except one that later flew at 11:30pm.
According to the father, Emmanuel Attah: “We were planning to return by road this (Monday) morning when the airline sent text messages that the flight would takeoff at 9am. This is already 2pm. We still don’t know our fate,” he said.
A Kano-bound passenger, Samson, also told The Guardian that Arik Air had rescheduled his flight twice in the last two days.According to him, “The flight was scheduled to depart on Saturday but it was put off and rescheduled for Sunday. Again, it was canceled on Sunday and rescheduled for Monday, 11:15am. This is 4pm, we are still waiting.”
While the Attahs and Samson among a horde of others were stuck at the Lagos Airport for days, the tale was the same for outbound passengers in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and other airports nationwide.
The situation, it was gathered, also affected meetings and official functions in government offices. At the Federal Ministry of Transportation in Abuja, a programme that was meant to hold around noon had to be delayed for hours as the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, awaited the arrival of principal officers coming from Lagos.
Some blocks away, officials of power distribution companies, who were to decide a critical matter of national interest, were also not left out as they could not make it to the avenue as planned.At the terminals, where the officials and other passengers were held, the waiting, confusion and chaos almost knew no bound.
Waiting indefinitely depresses both mind and body. So, it was not unusual for tempers to rise as livid passengers, irrespective of age or status, charged at airport officials to demand what was going on.
As if to add to the chaos, operators kept selling hiked tickets to passengers on some high-traffic routes, much to the dismay of other stranded passengers.For instance, The Guardian observed that rates, which normally range between N18, 000 and N23, 000 for economy class across the airlines, went up to about N39, 800 and N60, 000 for economy and business class, in that order.At the General Aviation Terminal, Lagos, where airlines like Arik Air and Air Peace operate, an air ticket to Abuja was as high as N40, 000 for economy class.
Behind the development actually, is the scarcity of aviation fuel that worsened over the weekend.Though the sector is not new to shortage of Jet-A1 that is 100 per cent imported and subjected to forces of the foreign exchange market. Oil marketers that are responsible for the supply blamed the high cost of buying dollar as the bane of the current scarcity.
Executive Secretary of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Obafemi Olawole, told The Guardian that the current rate of N320-plus to one dollar, which banks are offering oil marketers, discouraged importers from bringing in the essential commodity.
The airlines that have been struggling to remain in business due to economic crunch are also in dire straits losing a lot of money for every delay or cancellation.
A Chief Operating Officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the airlines themselves were running at a loss in the current circumstance. He said: “In as much as we sympathise with the customers that chose to fly with us, we must all try to understand the situation we are in. It is so terrible that even the airlines are threatened to close down.
“For everyday gone by without normal services is like a N100 million loss to an average airline. That is a lot of money. But when there is no fuel or marketers do not supply as at when due, there is almost nothing anyone can do about it,” he said.Keen observer of the development said that it was a sad reflection of the authorities’ handling of the sector. They said that though the current administration came with a lot of plans to transform the aviation sector to make it viable, they have shown very little putting their money where their mouth is.
An oil market told The Guardian that as long as Nigeria continues to import refined product and not refine locally, there will be no end to fuel shortage. It would be recalled that the scarcity recently raised its ugly head in May, with stakeholders demanding for infrastructural development and efforts to refine the product locally.
Besides availing the scarce foreign exchange (dollar), the Ministry of State for Aviation and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had promised that works were on to ensure that the product is locally refined. Since then, there has been a lull on the subject.
The marketer, who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “It is time we had asked the ministry what they are actually doing to bring lasting solution to this embarrassment. That is what it is for me. Here we are as oil rich nation, why can’t we refine aviation fuel locally? If they are actually willing, why is it taking so long? These are the questions. We cannot continue to depend on the vagaries of the exchange market,” he said.
Director of Strategy at Zenith Travels, Olumide Ohunayo, added that “Nigeria is the only country suffering from the malaise of recurring aviation fuel scarcity”, describing it as “strange”.Ohunayo said while fuel price is falling internationally due to excess crude supplies, and airlines are rejoicing over the fall, those in Nigeria are putting up with shortage in supply and high cost.
According to him, “the deregulation of Jet A1 is a colossal failure and the government needs to address it and also use it to avoid recurrence in the recently deregulated Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), which will have a larger implication on the society.”
Accountable Manager for Dana Air, Obi Mbanuzuo, was of the view that with aviation fuel being refined locally, about 50 per cent of the entire problem would have been solved. The question is, how far are the plans to have the product locally refined and solve the lingering problems?
In fairness to the authorities, led by the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, the daunting economic recession is a sufficient clog in the wheels of any meaningful agenda. And, indeed, volumes of that agenda had been said lately. But beyond just talking about what to do, authorities should also be seen doing something.
It is time we had asked the ministry what they are actually doing to bring lasting solution to this embarrassment. That is what it is for me. Here we are as oil rich nation, why can’t we refine a single drop of aviation fuel locally? If they are actually willing, why is it taking so long?
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