Local airlines rebound with traffic surge, new routes
•Air Peace, Arik, Dana expand operations
Despite the operational hiccups facing the sector, local airlines have recorded a marginal rebound in business, recording improved passenger patronage across networks.
And in response to the uptake, some of the carriers are opening new routes and reactivating old ones to increase nationwide connectivity.
The Guardian recently reported that the liquidity crisis in the economy was eating deeper into the daily operations of the local airlines, causing airlines’ capacity to dwindle and airfares hitting the rooftop.
The situation has not improved, but business appears to be looking upon the traffic end of the industry.
The Lagos hub of the local aviation sector, for instance, recorded over a million passenger traffic in the last four months. Estimates by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) showed that the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos, in the first quarter of 2021 alone recorded a total of 739,560.
A breakdown of the figure showed that the international terminal recorded 323,751 while local terminals had 402,519 passengers.
A total of 17,286 aircraft were recorded at the airport. Domestic aircraft movement was 12,744 while international wing recorded 4,542.
The Manager of the Lagos Airport, Victoria Shin-Aba, said there was no significant drop in the traffic, as Lagos remains the business nerve centre of the country with most flights terminating at the airport.
Shin-Aba noted that passengers were gradually recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic slur, with more people getting emboldened to fly.
“It is like a gradual reawakening; a gradual restart away from the COVID-19. Then came the second wave but that did not discourage people from travelling. So, business is growing gradually.”
Operators said they were responding to the improvement by deepening route operations to serve customers better.
West and Central Africa’s largest carrier, Air Peace, said it would be launching scheduled commercial flights into Gombe from Abuja, and also resume Yola flight services soon.
Chief Operating Officer of the airline, Oluwatoyin Olajide, said the decision to commence the Abuja-Gombe-Abuja route was a reflection of Air Peace’s resolve to open up the North East as the region is currently underserved.
Olajide said the airline had already set up the Gombe station, calling on residents of the state to apply to the airline as there are roles to be filled in the station.
On aircraft maintenance, she said: “We have 17 aircraft undergoing varying levels of maintenance overseas and once they start returning, we shall launch more routes and resume others that we temporarily suspend.”
She added that the two brand new 124-seat capacity E195-E2 jets, recently received from Embraer, would soon be deployed to boost domestic and regional flight connectivity.
New entrant, United Nigeria Airlines is adding to its network, with the commencement of regularly scheduled flight operations to the domestic wing of Port Harcourt International Airport. The inaugural flight from Lagos is scheduled for Thursday, April 22, 2021.
Similarly, Arik Air is resuming direct flights from Lagos to Kano effective Tuesday, April 27, 2021. The three weekly flights will operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Arik said the decision to reintroduce direct flights between Lagos and Kano was informed by the importance of both cities as centres of commerce.
Head, Corporate Communications, Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu, said regular flights from Port Harcourt to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja would depart at 3 pm daily while flights from Abuja to Port Harcourt will depart at 4:30 pm every day.
Dana Air is investing more in human capacity development, decorating new captains on its Boeing 737 aircraft among others.
Decorating Captain Shina Agbelese and Captain Ademola Akinyemi in Lagos, the Chief Operating Officer of Dana Air, Obi Mbanuzuo, said it was exciting to see young Nigerian Pilots performing excellently, and doing amazingly well.
Mbanuzuo said: “It takes a lot to train pilots and with over 80 per cent of our pilots trained by Dana Air, we would continue to be a trailblazer in building capacity for homegrown pilots. We are glad to be making a huge impact in this regard and contributing our quota to the growth and stability of the industry.”