Despite the expected increase in flight operations in the first quarter due to the general elections, domestic airlines recorded a decline, MAUREEN IHUA-MADUENYI writes
Domestic flight operations in the first quarter of this year recorded a decline when compared with the preceding quarter as well as the same quarter in 2018, investigations have shown.
Figures obtained from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority showed that the nine domestic airlines operating in the country, jointly operated 14, 735 flights from January to March, about 10.95 per cent lower than the 16,546 flights operated between October and December 2019.
Aero Contractors, Arik Air, Azman Air, Dana Air, Med-View Airline, Overland Airways, Air Peace and Max Air operated 5, 420 flights in January; 4, 289 in February and 5, 026 flights in March while in the last quarter of 2018, the airlines operated 5, 398 in October, 5, 408 in November and 5, 740 flights in December.
Against expectations that the general elections would be a busy period for airlines, the number of flights operated in the first quarter, when compared with the same period of 2018, only showed a marginal increase of 0.56 per cent from the 14, 653 flights recorded between January and March, 2018.
International airlines were also not left out in the decline as the 36 operators had a combined 3, 872 flights compared with the 4, 055 recorded in the last quarter of 2018 but higher than the 3, 757 flights operated in the first quarter of 2018.
Delayed flights for domestic airlines, however, showed improvement, dropping from 8, 825 in the first quarter of 2018 to 7, 926 in 2019, while cancelled flights also dropped from 208 to 181 in the first quarters of 2018 and 2019 respectively.
Although flight operations around January and February are known to be fewer than the months of November and December when people travel more, aviation analysts had predicted a rise in both flight operations and a number of passengers for domestic operators, riding on the back of the 2019 general elections.
But, the reverse was the case, which according to airline operators, was largely due to the postponement of the elections, which necessitated the cancellation of close to 150 domestic flights in March alone.
The Corporate Communications Manager, Air Peace, Mr Chris Iwarah, said the period between January and March was generally considered a lean period in global aviation but that the 2019 elections also had a huge impact on flight operations, albeit negatively.
He said, “Flights around that period come with disruptions before picking up again around March, especially from weather-related issues but the general elections had a huge impact when it was postponed.
“It affected flights negatively to a large extent, but of course, it was a sacrifice we all had to make; you must have leaders before talking about business.”
The Media and Communications Manager, Dana Air, Mr Kingsley Ezenwa, explained that flight operations fluctuated throughout the first quarter.
According to him, people did not travel as much as was expected during the elections.
“At some point, it peaked, at some other time, it was really low. It fluctuated all through; it was not as if operations were at an all-time low during the period. As an election year, there were expectations of an increase in flight operations but nothing spectacular happened. That period, people were careful about their movement, so the insecurity also affected operations, but it was not completely bad,” he said.
It was also gathered that apart from the general elections, some airlines had taken a number of aircraft from their fleet for maintenance which reduced the number of flights they operated during the period.
“Capacity was low; so many aircraft were taken out of service for checks and maintenance,” Ezenwa stated.
The International Air Transport Association in its global passenger traffic results for the months of January, February and March had noted that there were continued concerns about Africa’s largest economies, South Africa and Nigeria, contributing to the slowdown of air traffic in the first quarter.
Aviation Analyst, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, said the postponement of the elections disrupted not just flight operations but other businesses as well.
He said, “Generally after the festive period, it is the norm here that from January to February, the corporate world is expected to pick up gradually but unfortunately the elections came and necessitated restrictions in movement and activities.
“Coupled with the postponement, it made mincemeat of all economic activities; commercial travel was no exception. During that period, air fare became ridiculously low with numerous promos for people to fly. The last election was also tensed with heightened ethnicity issues on the ground. So it had businesses grounded so also were social activities. Once these concomitants abound, air travel suffers.”
Ohunayo also stated that apart from the disruptions occasioned by the general elections, in the first quarter of the year, there were rumours of an increase in fuel pump price, which created anxiety in the economy.