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Foreign airlines cut frequencies over low patronage, trapped funds

By Wole Oyebade
05 September 2022   |   4:05 am
A couple of foreign airlines have started reducing frequencies on Nigerian routes over low patronage, operational difficulties and other constraints.

Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP

•It is expected in twilight of summer travels, stakeholders say
•Nigeria working to offset $100m balance – NCAA

A couple of foreign airlines have started reducing frequencies on Nigerian routes over low patronage, operational difficulties and other constraints.

The carriers, The Guardian learnt, are either wary of the reduced load factor following recent spike in airfares that fenced off intending travellers, or reacting to the trapped fund episode.

Travel operators, however, said that the reduced frequencies were expected of some airlines, as the summer peak period gives way for the fall season.

Shortly after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced the release of $265 million out of $465 million stranded in the country, Emirates Airlines introduced four-weekly flights on Lagos routes, effective September 11.

Emirates, in a notice to its trade partners, entitled: “Emirates reinstates flight to Nigeria”, stated that operations to Nigeria would be reinstated with four-weekly Lagos flights on September 11, 2022, contrary to its usual 14-weekly flights into Lagos and seven-weekly to Abuja.

American carrier, Delta Air, has also suspended its Lagos- New York JFK route effective October 4, 2022, to “fit the current demand environment.”

According to an official statement, “the airline continues to operate service between Lagos and Atlanta and offers onward connections to New York and other cities across the United States.”

Similarly, Air Peace airline has suspended its Lagos-Johannesburg operations, citing fuel scarcity, low patronage and delays by the South African Embassy to grant visas to Nigerian travellers, which has massively reduced travellers on the routes.

The development is also affecting the South African Airways (SAA) that is also considering withdrawal or reduction in frequencies on the route.

An official of one of the foreign airlines said reduction in flight movements was inevitable given the delays in addressing the trapped fund issue.

“Airlines plan their itineraries far ahead of time. Quite a number of them had planned to reduce operations on Nigerian routes before the CBN released funds. We should not immediately expect the airlines to pull the brakes on their plans because there has been an announcement of funds release. They can, but it will take a while after considering all other factors,” he said.

Findings, however, showed that the reduction in frequencies is not peculiar to Nigeria. American Airlines had lately cut flight schedules, slashing 16 per cent or 31,000 flights in November, according to data from Cirium. The airline said the move was “in line with our approach to network and schedule planning throughout the year.”

United Airline also cut another 3,900 flights from its October plans, being about 3.5 per cent of its schedule.

Globally, several factors are contributing to those decisions. Carriers and airports face labour shortages, heightened by logjams in training. Outbreaks and new variants of COVID-19 are emerging. Supply chain issues and airplane delivery delays loom, which particularly affect the rebounding international travel market.

President, National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Susan Akporiaye, said Delta stopping the Lagos-New York flight is not a result of trapped funds.

Akporiaye explained that the carrier’s New York flight had never been a fixed route but seasonal. “They usually bring the route on during high season and they are taking it back during low season. If you notice, it takes effect from October 4. By then, the high season will be over and they will bring it back in December because December is another high season,” she said.

In a related development, the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu, has assured that efforts were on to ensure that Nigeria avail the balance of $100 million of foreign airlines’ trapped funds.

Nuhu described the CBN’s release of $265 million as welcome development, adding: “Going forward, I know the Hon. Minister of Aviation, Minister of Finance and the CBN Governor are still working to ensure the balance of the funds is released to the airlines and a mechanism is developed to avoid the repeat of this.”

He said they couldn’t force any airline to keep operating in Nigeria. “We can only encourage them; we can talk to them, but it is a commercial decision for an airline to decide a number of frequencies and where they operate to.

“If the traffic load is not there, you cannot force them to operate. If they believe they have other difficulties and challenges that affect their operations into certain airports, it is their decision. I cannot force or manipulate any airline to operate in Nigeria. We can only encourage them,” Nuhu said.

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