By Omololu Ogunmade and Chinedu Eze
Abuja and Lagos — Nigeria’s aviation sector has witnessed a steady decline in air passenger traffic in the last four years, THISDAY’s investigation has revealed.
Also, data obtained from Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), confirmed that growth in the aviation industry has been declining since 2015.
This is coming as the federal government banned the use of Boeing 737-Max 8 planes in Nigeria’s airspace.
THISDAY gathered that though passenger traffic increased in 2018, the figures were still less than the 2015 levels.
It was gathered that while there has been an increase in outbound flights, which indicated that more Nigerians were leaving the country, there was less passenger traffic on inbound flights, which was an indication that many Nigerians who travelled overseas did not return home apparently due to the harsh economic realities.
According to data obtained from the FAAN, overall passenger traffic in 2015, which was 15,222,187, dropped to 14,564,722 in 2016.
In 2017, it dropped further to 13,704,215, against the 14,564,722 in 2016.
However, it rose to 15.2 million in 2018, representing an increase of 2.7 million from the previous year, but still lower than 2015 figures.
Also in 2015, Nigerian airlines were operating international destinations.
For instance, Arik Air was operating Lagos-London, Lagos-Johannesburg and Lagos-New York in addition to destinations in West and Central Africa.
Medview Airline also operated Lagos-London and started Lagos-Dubai.
However, in 2019, four years after, no Nigerian airline is operating international destinations as Air Peace is only operating within West Africa.
THISDAY also gathered that the number of operating aircraft, which was over 60 prior to 2015, has contracted to less than 35, according to Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON).
For example, by 2015 Arik Air had over 24 operating aircraft, which has declined to less than eight.
Also while First Nation has gone under, Medview’s operating aircraft has declined from six in 2016 to about two.
Aviation analysts have explained that there has been a general downturn in the aviation sector due to economic crunch, which reached its peak in 2016 when the economy slipped into recession.
According to them, with profit decline in the aviation sector, high capital outlay demand and harsh operational environment, the industry became a major causality of the economic hardship in the country.
At the first stakeholders’ meeting after his appointment as the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, had said his plan was to establish a national carrier, major maintenance facility in Nigeria, and aircraft leasing company to enable Nigerian airlines acquire modern aircraft.
He had also unveiled a robust plan to address the deplorable infrastructure decay at the airports, and also concession the airports so that the private sector would inject funds and modernise the facilities.
THISDAY, however, gathered that very little progress were recorded on these targets in the first four years of the administration.
The President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agency (NANTA), Mr. Bankole Bernard, told THISDAY that the first four years of the Buhari administration was spent on blaming previous administrations.
He suggested that the federal government should implement the resolutions reached after the minister held strategic meetings with industry stakeholders.
Bernard said the implementation would be a headway to moving the industry forward.
“We don’t have policies that support the growth of domestic airlines. There is no policy that supports code-share partnership between foreign airlines that operate into the country and our domestic airlines. But in other countries in Africa and elsewhere such policies exist to give domestic airlines the opportunity to benefit from the operations of international flights to those countries,” Bernard said.
THISDAY also gathered that there is high load factor on outbound flights than inbound flights in many destinations due to the fact that many Nigerians travelling out of the country do not come back.
A senior official of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), who confirmed this development, attributed it to high level of migration.
“Some countries are even putting policies in place to ban Nigerians from coming to their place to stay,” the official said.
However, the President of the Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN), Mr. Ahmadu Illitrus, told THISDAY that the first four years of the Buhari’s administration was a blessing to the aviation sector because Nigeria has maintained a high level of safety as no accident involving commercial aircraft was recorded.
He said: “I am happy that we are going to see consolidation on the new administration. I expect to see the completion of what was started in the last four years. It is good that the current government was re-elected because it is going to crystallise on what it started.
“We are under serious threat from African airlines due to the Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM), which we are signatory to and which has opened up our market, provided it is done on the condition of reciprocity. So we need to build strong carriers, which can compete with others in Africa. Without that, I fear for this country. So we expect government to speed up the process of the national carrier, revive the bilateral air service agreement (BASA) that has been dormant and create jobs for pilots, engineers, cabin crew and others.”
He said Nigerian airlines were not performing up to expectation because they were undercapitalised with small fleet size.
According to him, many of the airlines are not run by professionals, adding that this has resulted in lack of corporate governance and lack of major maintenance facility locally.
FG Bans Boeing 737-Max Air Planes
Meanwhile, the federal government Wednesday in Abuja banned Boeing 737 Max 8-9 aircraft, which had been involved in two accidents within five months from flying into any part of the country.
With the ban, Nigeria joined some other countries of the world, which had either banned the aircraft from its airspace or grounded the brand from its fleet as precautionary safety and security measures in the aviation industry.
The ban followed the crash of this brand of aircraft belonging to the Ethiopian Airline conveying 149 passengers and eight crew members six minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa enroute Nairobi on Sunday killing all on board.
It was the second time that Boeing 737 Max 8-9 aircraft, a relatively brand new product, by Messrs Boeing, would be crashing in similar circumstance few minutes after take-off. The first incident of the crash involving the aircraft occurred five months ago in Indonesia 14 minutes after take-off.
Briefing journalists at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in the State House yesterday, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said the ban will subsist until the final outcome of the investigation into the cause of the Ethiopian Airline crash and an authoritative response on the aircraft from the manufacturers, Messrs Boeing 737.
According to the minister, the decision had become compelling because the aviation industry is one and hence, whatever affects one part of the industry has backlash effects on the other, pointing out that Nigeria cannot operate in isolation.
Sirika also explained that Air Peace and Arik airlines, which had reportedly ordered for this brand of the aircraft would not take delivery of the brand until the next two years, disclosing that by the time the aircraft would be due to arrive the country, all investigations on its safety would have been concluded and what’s wrong with it would have expectedly been rectified.
He said: “Regarding Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 that has been in the news recently, there is no cause for alarm as there is no operator in Nigeria that is using that type of airplane.
“The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, whose mandate it is to issue advisory, has already issued advisory that nobody should fly into Nigeria or out of Nigeria using Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9, pending the determination of the actual cause of the crash in Ethiopia and also pending the outcome of the response of the manufacturer, which is Messrs Boeing.
“Regardless of the enormous safety records of this plane 737, it has caused concern in the world of aviation and you know aviation is universal. Whatever affects one affects the other because aircraft will be flying in and out. So, we have issued directive that no operator with Boeing 737 Max 8 or Max 9 should operate into and outside our airports and this is being carried out.”
Sirika also said the council approved over N5 billion for various safety and security equipment in various airports in the country.
According to him, N4.053 billion was approved for the procurement of safety and security equipment including screening machines for Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt airports with a view to guaranteeing safety in the airports in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regulations.
He also said N719 million was approved for the upgrade and rehabilitation of the intake transformer for landing system and other equipment at the Aminu Kano Airport in Kano.
Sirika added that N529.3 million was also approved for the supply of x-ray screening machines and cargo scanners at the Enugu Airport while another N622.5 million was approved for the repair of the Minna Airport terminal building which according to him had been abandoned since 2012.
In her own briefing, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, said FEC also approved an external borrowing of €64,759 million from French Development Agency for the provision of natural urban water in Kano to improve access to quality water for 1.5 million people.
According to Ahmed, the loan has a repayment period of 20 years with seven-year moratorium.