‘Forex crisis, fuel price spike intensify safety surveillance on local airlines’
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has hinted that multiple operational challenges are taking a heavy toll on the local airlines, necessitating a closer surveillance of their operations.
Specifically, the apex regulator identified the protracted foreign exchange liquidity crisis, high cost of aviation fuel, and depleted fleet, as potential hurdles to airlines meeting obligations and safety standards.
Indeed, until recently when local carriers embarked on a rash of aircraft leases ahead of the festive peak period, industry-wide capacity had dipped from about 100 to 38 active airplanes.
While the airlines are starved of foreign exchange to execute maintenance as and when due, the parallel market is too expensive an alternative for the cash-strapped operators.
To worsen capacity crunch is the fuel crisis. Aviation fuel rates had in about 18 months, risen from N190/litre to over N800. As at weekend, a litre of Jet A1 was sold in Lagos at N810, Abuja N825, Port Harcourt N828 and Kano N840/litre.
Director-General of the NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu, noted that the telling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hurt the industry, and now made worse by the current industry realities.
Nuhu said the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic did not only put the airlines in a difficult situation, but exposed a lot of fractions within the system.
“A lot of airlines didn’t survive the COVID-19 globally and some are still affected from the impact of the pandemic. When we thought we were recovering, then we had issues of foreign exchange and the Jet A1 crisis, which further put the industry in a very difficult situation.
“Aviation is safety sensitive and whenever you have financial difficulty, it is just a matter of time, you will not be able to comply with all the regulatory requirements and some may start cutting corners.
“The airlines are trying under difficult circumstances and that has increased our workload to continue the surveillance to ensure that safety margins are adhered to and we are getting there.
“We (the NCAA) are doing our best to ensure that there is continuous safety in the air and we ensure compliance with all our regulations and recommended practices. We work together with the industry to see how we can assist; help the industry in the midst of the challenges,” Nuhu said.
The DG, however, assured that the entire sector is working in tandem towards a more customer-friendly festive season. Nuhu admitted that there is always a rush for the travelling public in December. “It is the airlines and the airport operators that will put measures in place to ensure that proper mitigating procedures are put in place to facilitate operations during the Yuletide period.
“As far as the issue of navigation facilities is concerned, calibration has just started to ensure that they are all in top shape so that when the inclement weather comes, flights can operate with minimum disruption,” he said.
Flight cancellations can be due to many reasons. “I am not making excuses for any operator; sometimes, you have technical problems, weather and other disruptions that affect the flight schedules. Sometimes, the planning by the airlines is not the best.
“But we are working with everybody. It is not just the airlines; they are part of the ecosystem in the airport. Whenever we have the Yuletide, we are going to have a surge in passenger traffic that may be beyond the terminal capacity.
“That one also has an impact on the departure of airlines. Sometimes, the handlers are overloaded because of the loads. It will have an impact on the plan of the airline. So, we are doing our best to mitigate those challenges,” he said.