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Rising cost of domestic air travel



Just when the aviation industry is battling with low passenger patronage as a result of the crisis of foreign exchange (forex) and a biting economic recession, speculation of a further increase in the cost of air travel is worrisome. The Nigerian aviation authorities should not be in a hurry to approve such an increase in order not to compound the problems faced by Nigerians.

Indeed any attempt to further raise the fares could be disastrous for the sector or even defeat the best interest of the airlines.

Input such as aviation fuel, which has been persistently scarce and non-availability of foreign exchange should be addressed, while trade disputes should be settled for the aviation sector to thrive. A situation in which international airlines now stop over in Accra, Ghana to refuel, is detrimental to the interest of Nigeria, a country which ought to serve as the aviation hub in the West African sub-region.

According to reports, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is in the process of auditing the domestic airlines to establish their true financial status and ensure that no operator is cutting corners. But apart from the audit, which is normal in the industry, the bigger issue is the chronically bad state of affairs which has led to drastic reduction in the number of operating aircraft from 60 in 2015 to 28 currently. This has put pressure on the industry, the people and the economy in general.

Nigeria’s poor road network, poor rail system and high level of insecurity have forced people to travel by air. And there is concern over the health of the airlines, especially, with reports of financial distress plaguing them. With all the mounting challenges, flight cancellations have become a daily experience. The man-hours lost and the impact on the economy is incalculable.

Could it be that the audit is aimed at establishing the true state of the airlines with a view to supporting them to remain in business? That would be a reasonable thing to do.

Another issue that must be addressed urgently by the authorities is the numerous charges on air travellers which are known to be responsible for the exorbitant fares. Ironically, the airlines receive only a fraction of these while the unproductive entities purportedly overseeing the industry take the lion share. It is a wonder how the airlines manage to pay for the maintenance of the aircraft as well as foot the daily running costs. Government should, therefore, reduce the charges to lighten the burden on the airlines and passengers.

There is need for a deliberate decision to develop the aviation industry in Nigeria as a way of boosting the economy. It is scandalous that after many decades of the aviation industry, there is no maintenance hangar in Nigeria and airlines have to source for forex to ferry their aircraft abroad for maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) exercises, which result in capital flight. The newly built maintenance hangar in Uyo airport is reportedly lying fallow despite billions of naira expended on it by the state government.

The non-existence of MRO facility has limited the growth of local carriers and may be responsible for some of the tragic accidents that occurred in the past, claiming hundreds of innocent lives.

But this is a shame when Nigeria is compared to South Africa and Egypt, countries which have world class maintenance hangars. The South African Airways (SAA) Technical hangar is equipped to handle all major maintenance requirements with the most modern equipment and highly skilled workforce. Nigeria must work to attain that level in order to assume its rightful position in sub-regional aviation business.

Without doubt, poor leadership is responsible for the aviation industry’s woes. Corruption and pecuniary interests seem to override service delivery and infrastructural development.

The Muhammadu Buhari administration is reportedly working on reviving the national carrier but the puzzle is whether that should be the priority. Nigeria Airways folded up in ignominy after it was wrecked by corruption. What is the guarantee that a new national carrier would not suffer the same fate even now that corruption is much more deeply ingrained?

Hence, government should get its priorities right based on a deep understanding of the aviation business. Making Nigeria an aviation hub in West Africa is a duty that must be done and the necessary facilities for that need to be built. Nigeria must stop advertising its peculiar failure of governance in every sector, especially in aviation.

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