Last year and 2017 present a sharp contrast in air travel in Nigeria. Although the country is not totally out of economic downturn, WOLE SHADARE reports that the sector is gradually bouncing back
In 2015 and till early part of this year, it was a tale of woes for the sector as businesses that were aviation-related were under threat.
Forex scarcity occasioned by fall in crude oil prices strangulated the local economy, making many airlines to struggle while others closed shop.
As the hardship persisted in the wake of Nigeria’s dwindling economy, carriers and transporters were put in difficult situation. They complained of low patronage. A visit to the Lagos airport then showed what an expert described as ‘apathy to air travel’.
While the crisis lasted, most airplanes departed half empty out of the country. The sector witnessed low patronage. Most people who patronised air travel drastically cut down their trips. Multinational companies equally reduced their trips and it took a toll on the sector. To compound the situation, Emirates stopped its Abuja services, and cut its 14 frequencies from Lagos to Dubai to daily flight. Other carriers that managed to stay replaced their bigger aircraft with smaller planes because of capacity reduction on the routes they plied. For instance, British Airways jettisoned its iconic B747 to a smaller A330. But later this year, the carrier plans to restore the jumbo jet on the London-Lagos route, saying capacity has continued to grow on the route since the third quarter of 2017.
As a result of foreign exchange restrictions imposed by the Federal Government, foreign carriers had $600 million in ticket sales trapped in the country. IATA was unrelenting in its resolve to get the funds released. Government on the hand worked frantically to get the trapped funds released to the carriers to sustain their operations.
IATA’s Area Manager, (South-West Africa), Dr. Samson Fatokun, at a press briefing last week when IATA Regional Vice President, Africa and Middle East, Mohammed Ali Albakri visited Nigeria, disclosed that government had released $425 million trapped funds belonging to the carriers.
Albakri’s delegation was expected to meet industry stakeholders from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agents, IATA members airlines based in Nigeria and all domestic and international airlines.
According to Fatokun, “as at June, 2016 foreign airlines’ trapped funds stood at $600 million. As at June 2017, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had released to the airlines $425 million but we still have $175 million that is yet to be released. We had a lot of engagement with the CBN. We encourage CBN to maintain the tempo. It is not the profit of the airlines but revenue from the service they did. It is funds for staff salaries; maintenance and other things the airlines need”.
Albakri says more jobs can be created and additional economic growth achieved in Nigeria if the West African nation used the transformative power of aviation as a strategic pillar to further strengthen and enhance its economic recovery and national development.
Albakri stated that now was the time to continue to invest in modern and efficient infrastructure to accommodate the future traffic growth that will occur.
British Airways’ Regional Commercial Manager, West Africa, Mr. Kola Olayinka, in an interview with Woleshadare.net, said fares were progressively getting cheaper with more people taking to air travel now than in the last two years.His words: “Nigerians are still travelling, businesses are picking up. Of course, people will tell you that the challenges are still there. They are managing it; they are applying strategies. We can see some strength in the economy based on what the government is doing and we thought that it would only be fair for our customers who have endured hard times with us will start bringing back good fares, fantastic products and the B747 we are bringing back has more capacity for passengers.”
Despite the economic recession in Nigeria, demand for air travel is beginning to rise, according to latest report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The report indicated that no fewer than 15,232, 597 air travellers went through Nigeria’s airports in 2016. This is a welcome development for an industry that had been troubled by a lot of operational challenges.