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Local airlines sink lower in schedule reliability despite high fares, 13% growth

By Wole Oyebade
24 February 2023   |   4:32 am
One of those criteria by which commercial airlines are assessed globally is schedule reliability – that is, turnaround time and attendant on-time departure. But for most local airlines in Nigeria, the punctuality standard rule is obeyed more in breaches than in compliance.

Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Ikeja

•Record more delays in 2022 as punctuality drops to 41%
•Regulator, operators have no template to solve problem, stakeholders say

One of those criteria by which commercial airlines are assessed globally is schedule reliability – that is, turnaround time and attendant on-time departure. But for most local airlines in Nigeria, the punctuality standard rule is obeyed more in breaches than in compliance.

By the new industry record, about two in every three local flights are now delayed in Nigeria with the entire industry schedule reliability dropping to 41 per cent in 2022.

The implication is more dissatisfied customers and huge loss of revenue despite more people relying on air travel in 2022, and paying between 100 to 200 per cent more for airfares.

Indeed, the local sector is not new to flight delays and cancellations. The malaise, however, reached a new low in 2022. A summary of 2022 industry performance by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), on the overall, showed a market rebound with over 16.17 million passengers recorded on both the domestic (12.7 million) and international (3.5 million) market segments. The 2022 total traffic figure showed a 13 per cent increase when compared with 2021 figures (14.2 million), and the highest passenger traffic since the COVID-19 post-pandemic era.

However, 11 domestic airlines operated 80,328 flights out of which 47,144 were delayed and 795 flights cancelled. A total of 26 airlines operated 13,003 international flights with 4,628 of the flights delayed in 82 cancellations.

The free-fall in schedule reliability, from one in every three the previous year, is also coming in a year airfares ballooned from N35,000 to between N70,000 to N95,000 for less than an hour Economy-class seat, following the spike in the cost of aviation fuel.

Airline operators, though regretting the dismal record, said it boiled down to the same old issues operators had complained about. The airlines, in an earlier push back to National Assembly’s complaints against the carriers’ four to nine hours delays, exactly last year, had blamed airport poor infrastructure and other 15 items for delays.

Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON) said blaming airlines for factors outside their control was inciting and uncharitable. They said, at least, 80 per cent of flight delays would be eradicated if concerned authorities fix poor airport infrastructure, decongest aprons, expand airport operating hours, tackle fuel scarcity and its rising cost, and reduce Customs’ bottlenecks.

Other factors fingered as causes are: changes in weather, inadequate aircraft parking space due to congested aprons, too many sunset airports that operate between 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. only, flight delays due to VIP movements, bird strikes and foreign object damage to aircraft and scarcity and rising cost of aviation fuel.

The list also has: unavailability of forex for spare parts and maintenance, Customs allegedly delaying clearance of safety critical spare parts, poor air traffic flow, inadequate check-in counters, inadequate screening and exit points at departure, unserviceable baggage claim machines, inadequate and unreliable ground services equipment for boarding and disembarkation of passengers, unruly passengers, lack of runway lights and unforeseen circumstances due to component failures and ground accidents.

The operators said: “AON invites the public to note that if these ‘fixable’ issues were to be solved today by the concerned authorities, the frequent delays passengers experience in the domestic system would immediately reduce by 80 per cent. Industry stakeholder, Babatunde Adeniji, said the report card showed that “we failed as an industry to even make the pass grade”.

“Domestic airlines as a whole were only punctual for 41 per cent of operated flights, with Ibom Air and Green Africa and Value Jet being the outliers among the 11 operators,” he observed.

In a sharp contrast to the yearlong free-fall locally, Adeniji said, a South African-based low-cost carrier, SAFAIR, ended the year as the second most punctual airline in the world (scoring 95.3 per cent) – according to the OAG global report on airline punctuality.

“The NCAA executive summary report lacked the rigour and details of the OAG report. It failed to show correlations or causes for the delays. It was silent on contributory factors/ agencies for controllable delays and sadly limited the report’s usefulness as a tool for conducting root cause analysis or drive improvement.

“The quality of this very important report needs to improve this year and should include commissioned studies on the causes and cost of delays to airlines, passengers, lost demand and indirect economic costs,” he said.

Adeniji drew attention to the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) consideration that airlines are part of an interdependent aviation system, which has to work like clockwork to get passengers to their destinations safely and on-time.

“It takes the position that, any approach to address delays, should involve everyone in the picture – airlines, airports, air traffic management, governments and passengers themselves – so that, together, we can improve on-time performance, and when delays do happen, ensure that passengers are properly cared for.” Unfortunately, nothing has been achieved in terms of such crucial collaboration locally, Adeniji said.

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