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Nigerian Airlines deny fixing base fares and lament a $60 million loss due to bird strikes and flight cancellations
By Derrick Bangura
The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has denied establishing the base rate for economy airline tickets at N50,000 after passengers claimed that the sudden increase in fares suggested collusion on the part of the association.
The operators also claimed that by 2021, they will have lost $60 million (N24 billion) due to bird strikes alone. The funds were utilized to replace their aircraft engines, which had been wrecked by a bird hit.
In addition, they said canceled flights due to lack of night landing facilities at some airports, known as sunset airports, cost them over N20 billion in 2021.
However, indications showed that air travelers have started shunning the airports as airlines have been recording low passenger traffic due to high fares.
Speaking during a media conference, in Lagos, on Wednesday, the Vice President of AON and Chairman/CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema said the N50, 000 ticket price had always been in the airlines’ systems in the last five years, adding that airlines only adjust ticket cost based on their operational costs.
Onyema said what the airlines did was to work out the unit cost per seat, which he said determined their basic ticket price.
Onyema who was representing the President of AON pointed out that the cost of aviation fuel was increased by over 200 percent, with over 100 percent depreciation in the exchange rate in the last two years, while ground handling companies had increased their rates by over 300 percent, yet the cost of air ticket remained below $100.
“People have asked us how we maintain our planes with the fares we charge. In as much as we are rendering services, our business must be sustained. The repair of just one aircraft engine can take everything an airline makes in one month. The airline business is not profitable,” Onyema added.
He said that no airline loves to delay flights but factors beyond the airlines’ control cause flight delays.
Some of the causes of flight delays he mentioned included bird strikes, airport apron congestion, lack of space for check-in of passengers, poor airport infrastructure, air traffic flow control, bad weather, and unruly behavior of passengers.
Onyema said that bird strike incidents in Nigeria were on the increase despite efforts by the Federal Airports of Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to stem it, thus forcing airlines to ground aircraft that should be operating and losing huge revenue.
He, therefore, called on the concerned authorities to provide airport equipment to help reduce bird strikes in Nigeria.
The AON said it strongly objected to the multiple designations granted to foreign carriers such as Qatar Airways and Ethiopian Airlines by the federal government.
“Designating foreign airlines to multiple airports in Nigeria impede the growth of domestic airlines and the aviation sector. All foreign airlines put together do not provide 10 percent of jobs provided by the smallest airline in Nigeria.
“Multiple designations granted foreign airlines would lead to job losses and domestic airlines closing shops,” Onyema added.
Meanwhile, THISDAY investigations have confirmed a low turnout of passengers at the airports since Monday, following the hike in airfares to N50, 000.
This meant that one-way tickets would cost over N50, 000 and might increase to N80, 000 to N90, 000 per ticket.
This was confirmed by some protocol personnel who spoke to THISDAY at the domestic wing of the Lagos airport.
They revealed that the increase in fares has reduced passenger traffic at the airport.
“You have to know that the minimum ticket you can buy now is N50, 000. In the last two days, I have sold tickets as high as N85, 000; some N75, 000 and some N70, 000. But the traffic is dropping fast. I am sure that if passenger traffic continues to drop, airlines will be forced to bring down their fares,” the source who pleaded to remain anonymous said.
THISDAY met with a passenger who flew from Abuja to Lagos on Wednesday and revealed that the majority of the seats on the plane that took him there were empty.
“I was shocked that there were so many empty seats at that time of day, the first flight from Abuja.” The airlines must recognize that there is no money in this country. The middle class is the one who flies. “If they avoid plane travel, the money bags will be unable to sustain their operations,” he stated.
A spokeswoman for one of the big airlines confirmed to THISDAY that passenger traffic has decreased and that he was concerned that it would continue to decline.