Tackling multiple delays in local operations

By Wole Oyebade |   07 September 2018   |   4:17 am  

Passengers stranded at Lagos airport.

All passengers on local airlines have experienced their fair share of delays and agony of cancelled flights. WOLE OYEBADE writes on how chaotic take-off at sunrise compounds the misery of local air travel all day.

Except for the more orderly manner in which they filed, the scene could easily have been mistaken for the rush hour at popular Oyingbo market in Lagos. Both young and old all crammed the terminal to buy tickets and shoved their way out of town. Time check: 6:45a.m.

While queues at dispensing counters easily absorbed newcomers, the ticket holders all funneled into the boarding exit corner. At the head is a screening machine, manned by half a dozen Aviation Security operatives. Each passenger took at least five minutes to complete the security rounds.

“Abuja, Benin, Enugu, Owerri, Kano flights still boarding”, an official hurried called from the half empty departure hall ahead. On the airside, actually, are at least five aircraft revving preparatory for the first take-off.

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Given the marginal profit margin and higher breakeven point in the local industry, airlines rarely sacrifice free seats for on-time departure, most especially when there are passengers around the corner itching to break through the bottleneck.

So, when the Enugu bound aircraft eventually closed doors, the pilot-in-command apologised for the slight delay of their 0705 flight. Time check: 7:30am. What the pilot didn’t say or envisage is the disruption that awaits the entire day’s route plan and cost on the airline.

Punctuality the soul of aviation business
Time is of the essence in global aviation business. Just a minute delay, according to experts, is enough to ruin an entire operation and cost the airlines dearly.

In other airports around the world, the standard time for processing a passenger through the checkpoint screening is about 15/20 seconds. That is three or four passenger per minute or 180 to 240 passengers per hour. Some best of the bunch airports process faster.

Around here, it is less seamless and for many reasons. While screening bottleneck is the main constraint at Air Peace’s General Aviation Terminal (GAT), Lagos, there are other factors ranging from the chain reaction of such morning delays, low capacity to execute schedule, aviation fuel shortage and technical issues, among others under the umbrella of “operational issues” often given as excuses for flight delays.

An average aircraft is scheduled for six routes a day. Air Peace, which commands about 30 per cent share of the passenger traffic, is a typical example. With about 25 minutes delay in Lagos en route Enugu, its means the Enugu-Abuja leg is already delayed by at least 25 minutes, come what may before take-off in Enugu.

All things being equal, the Enugu flight gets to Abuja at 1000hrs when, according to schedule, it should be departing for Abuja-Enugu-Lagos return journey. The delayed passengers, sometimes in protest and due to poor communication, do take the law into their hands; pick on airlines officials and even disrupt other routes, whose aircraft had arrived on schedule.

Spokesperson for Air Peace, Chris Iwarah, said: “It is a chain that is also complicated in nature. Some passengers just don’t understand, therefore, causing needless clashes with airlines officials. This is what we see on daily basis. ”

By the time the dust settles and frail nerves calmed, all outbound flights are further delayed while some are even cancelled.

A frequent flyer, Olayemi Ogunlokun, told The Guardian that when it comes to Nigerian airlines, “anything is just possible.”

“For me, the best bet is to travel with the first or second flight. You can be assured of arriving on schedule. For the rest, there is no guarantee. Sometimes, a 6pm flight may just be ready for boarding at 10pm. That is for airports like Lagos and Abuja. And at airports with no air field lighting for night operations, the flights are cancelled. What type of customer service is that?” Ogunlokun queried.

Three out of every four flights delayed
Fact sheet of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) showed an average of three out of every four flights was delayed in 2017. That is, out of the 48,319 flights operated by eight airlines, 30,214 were late, while 872 were cancelled.

The breakdown shows that Aero Contractors has 66.5 per cent delay rate, Arik Air 61.8 per cent, Azman Air 66.4 per cent, Dana Air 64.2 per cent, Med-View Airlines PLC 71 per cent, Overland 70.1 per cent, First Nation 35.8 per cent and Air Peace 58.2 per cent.

For the first quarter of this year, the NCAA recorded 8,825 cases of flight delays across the eight airlines. Statistics released by the Consumer Protection Department of the NCAA shows that 14,633 flights were operated by airlines during the period under review, while 208 flights were cancelled for various reasons.

Apparently piqued by the ugly trend, the NCAA recently summoned a stakeholders’ meeting of operating local and foreign airlines, urging the airlines to ensure realistic flight planning and schedule, even as regulatory agencies promised to address operational challenges facing on time departure.

Spokesperson of the NCAA, Sam Adurogboye, said the agency had lately been inundated by complaints from passengers over disregard for good customers’ experience.

Adurogboye said that the industry values its customers and had warned all airlines to always adhere to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (NCARs 2015), and Passengers Bill of Rights in their dealings.

He said passengers must get value for their money, hence, the NCAA would not restrain from applying sanctions where appropriate.
Sanction with actions

Aviation Security expert, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), reiterated that there are more factors to flight delays, and “they are generally beyond the controls of the airlines.”

They include: passenger access control, passenger and carry-on-baggage check-point screening, hold baggage screening and sorting, number of boarding gates and the boarding screening.

“All these are not within the control of the airlines as they often delay passenger facilitation and flight departure time especially at Single Terminal Airport, with a Single Passenger Screening, Check Points and Single Boarding Gate.

“For instance, at Lagos Airports where there are two domestic terminals: Murtala Muhammed Airport (MM2) and GAT, there is only one screening point and one boarding gate at the GAT, where Air Peace and Arik with more flights operate from, whereas, the MM2, most times, has about two Passenger Screening Check Points and about six Boarding Gates.

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“What the stakeholders and the NCAA should consider more to assist flight operation, are the efficiency of the process of passenger checkpoint screening facilitation and the screening machines. There is a need to ensure that there are sufficient skilled manpower at these screening points and that there is regular power supply to the screening machines such that deficiency or breakdown of manpower or machine does not result to manual screening in aviation security defence layer.”

Ojikutu added that beyond reading a riot act to the airlines, the NCAA also needed to look inwards and intensify its regulatory activities, including calling the airport managers to order.

Iwarah of Air Peace said further that the relevant authorities should take a step further to light up all sunset airports like Enugu, Owerri, Benin and Calabar among others. He said so doing would avail longer operating hours for ‘better be late than never’, which is just more economic alternative to cancellations that often cost the airlines more and passengers alike.

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