Stakeholders in the aviation sector have explained why flight delays and cancellation witnessed by travellers in the country may continue to persist and it attendant causes.
This assertion is hinged against the background that domestic airlines operators in the country do not have the capacity to meet the current financial obligations.
According to them, Nigeria does not have the capacity to compete with any foreign airline, stressing that the environment differs in terms of government support, among others.
Checks revealed that Nigeria currently has 32 Air Operator Certificates (AOCs), out of which 12 are scheduled operators.
An AOC is a certificate authorising an operator to carry out specified commercial air transport operations. To obtain AOC an airline has to go through five phases.
The five phases are as follows: Stage one is the Pre-Application phase, where the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) appoints a certification team and process the pre-application statement of intent form (AC-OPS 001).
This stage entails discussions on all regulatory requirements for obtaining of Civil Aviation Regulations (CAR) and advisory, provision of forms which the NCAA receives and reviews, and any other related issues.
The second stage involves a formal application by the prospective operator, where documents and manuals (including the curricula vitae of key management personnel) are submitted for evaluation. The minimum time frame for this phase is two weeks (14 working days).
Stage three is the document evaluation phase. The NCAA during this phase review the applicant’s manuals and other related documents and attachments to ensure conformity with the applicable regulations and safe operating practices. The minimum time frame for this phase is three months (90 days).
Phase four, which is the key stage, is the demonstration and inspection stage. This comes after a satisfactory documentation evaluation process. During this stage, a thorough audit by the certification team at the applicant’s premises is conducted to ensure that the proposed procedures are effective and the applicant’s facilities and equipment meet the NCAA’s regulatory requirements.
Also, during this stage, other demonstrations like emergency evacuation and ditching is carried out and after successes in these exercises, a demonstration flight will be carried out. The minimum time frame for this phase is two months (60 days).
The fifth and final phase is the certification stage. At this stage, the prospective is deemed to have met and satisfied all the regulatory requirements of the Civil Aviation (Air Navigation) Regulations. The NCAA will issue the AOC with the appropriate specifications and ratings. The minimum time frame for the certification phase is one week (seven working days). After the issuance of the AOC, the applicant can engage in commercial aviation activities.
Despite this certification hurdles, airlines in Nigeria, still struggle to manage their daily operations, as travellers continue to lament over the persistent flights delay and cancellations.
Many Nigerians have lamented the incessant delay in domestic flights by operators across the country’s airports, even as most took to the social media to narrate their experiences with some flights delayed for over 24 hours.
Check by NaijaTimes revealed that in the first quarter of this year (January – March), a total of 2,791,591 passengers passed through the nation’s domestic airports. While 1,391,560 passengers were inbound, 1,400,031 were outbound.
This was contained in report published by the NCAA on Wednesday, July 5.
According to the report titled: “Executive Summary on International and Domestic Flight Operations,” there were 11 domestic airlines operating 182,88 flights in the period under review.
The report noted that of the 2,791,591 passengers, 10,128 were delayed, while 284 flights were cancelled by the 11 domestic airlines operating in the country.
Further breakdown of the statistics showed that, Air Peace, Nigeria’s largest carrier topped the list with the highest number of cancelled flights with 63, followed by Max Air with 56. Arik cancelled 43 flights, Aero Contractors 40, Azman Air 20, and Green Africa 16.
The report showed that Overland cancelled 15 flights, Value Jet 15, Ibom Air 9, Dana Air 5, and United Airlines 2.
Speaking on the development in an interview with newsmen, the Director General, NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu, said: “The problem is that a lot of the airlines don’t even have the capacity to meet current financial obligations.
“If you have three aircraft for instance and you lose one out of it, it has become a problem to meet up with your operations. Then, you start to have issues of flight delays, cancellations and all that.”
“The number of aircraft you will have will depend on the kind of operations you want to do. You can imagine somebody who comes in with just two aircraft and one of the aircraft goes out of business, whereas he has sold tickets to the passengers, think of what will happen.
“For you to have six aircraft, it shows you have very strong financial backgrounds of running an airline,” he added.
The NCAA DG explained that AOC compliance is not only for new entrants, but the old ones too have a period by which they have to comply. “If everybody has one or two aircraft, we will keep having this recurrent problem. We have to avoid that.
“People will criticise, but every country is different. We have to look at our own peculiar history and try and come with solutions, but regulations are not cast in stones.”
“If the situation changes the regulation would be reviewed accordingly. Whenever it is necessary, we don’t have to wait for five years before we make amendments.
“What again we are trying to do is to institutionalize NCAA. We want to make NCAA a proper institution so that the standard across the board is maintained. It is still an ongoing process,” he stated.
Also, in an interview, the Managing Director, Afri-Air International Limited, Capt. Shehu Iyal said: “The infrastructure in some of the airports are not adequate. The check-in counters may not be adequate. So, sometimes those issues create delays.
“And again; other things that cause delays are the non-availability of aviation fuel and bad weather. But, for a passenger, all he knows is that the airline is responsible for the delays.”
He noted that there are three variables that control flight operation: weather, technical issues and the availability of aviation fuel.
“Indeed, the most important factor in any flight, in any operation is the availability of aviation fuel as at when due or when needed. These are the things that the ordinary passenger doesn’t know,” he added.
On his part, the Chief Executive Officer, Med-View Airlines, Muneer Bankole, insisted that capacity remains a major threat to the survival of airlines in the country.
Speaking during the just concluded League of Airport and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC), conference in Lagos, Bankole said: “There is no way we can compete with any foreign airline. The environment we are in is not the same environment as the foreign they are in.”
The development gives credence to the ripple effect of aviation workers’ industrial actions and funds repatriation challenges in the aviation sector.
In January, aggrieved workers of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) declared a warning strike over poor salary. Their action disrupted flight operations at both the local and international wings of the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos during that period.
The action also grounded several arrival and departure flight schedules, with passengers lamenting that there was no prior communication intimating them of the disruption.
This prompted the former Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, to declare that the government would no longer tolerate strikes and riots around all airports in the country because it was against the law of the land.
Recall that due to the scarcity of aviation fuel (Jet-A1), Ibom Air and Air Peace, last year in separate statements hinted passengers to expect flight cancellations in the coming days.
The General Manger, Marketing and Communication, Ibom Air, Aniekan Essienette, in a statement said, “this is to bring to your (customer’s) notice that the growing unavailability of aviation fuel has greatly impacted on our operations, leading to flight delays. At this point, it might now result in some flight cancellations.
“While this situation is unprecedented and disruptive to our value proposition, we assure you that it is as distressing to us as it is to you.
“At Ibom Air, we will continue to do everything in our ability to operate our flight schedule as close to 100% as possible while looking forward to normalcy being restored at the earliest.”
On its part, Air Peace, in a statement signed by its management, said: “This is to inform our valued customers that the worsening aviation fuel scarcity in Nigeria is taking a toll on our flight operations, causing some delays and cancellations.
“While we deeply regret the inconveniences being experienced as a result of this situation, be rest assured that we are doing our best to deliver hitch-free flight services.
“We plead for your understanding, as we hope that the fuel scarcity crisis gets resolved soon, and normal operations restored.”
While air fare hike created by the Jet-A1 scarcity since February last year lingers, with many Nigerians criticising the move, the intervention of the government, which promised to resolve the scarcity, has apparently not been felt. This is as pump prices of petroleum products was by the current administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Checks by NaijaTimes on prices of Jet fuel on Monday morning shows that a barrel sells at $83.7 even Naira-Dollar exchange rate is N895 to a dollar. A metric ton sells for $661.2, while per gallon sells for $1.993, and cost per liter is $0.53.