Travel News

Local airlines debunk access to subsidised fuel, as Jet A1 sells at N800/litre - THE GUARDIAN

FEBRUARY 18, 2023

By Wole Oyebade

•New investments keep airlines afloat, says Okonkwo

Local airlines have denied being beneficiaries of Federal Government-subsidised aviation fuel regime, saying operators still buy at the open market price average of N800/litre.

In reaction to claims that special intervention has brought aviation fuel to N600/litre, the airlines said they had steadily weathered the storm without government’s much-vaunted support coming their way.

Recall that the House of Representatives, Ministry of Aviation, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), among others, lately worked out a plan to support local operators with subsidised aviation fuel, to assuage the high operating cost and threats of a shut down by the local airlines.

But the operators, yesterday, said nothing has changed as airlines continue to battle the high cost of aviation fuel, foreign exchange liquidity crisis and high cost of operations.

Chief Operating Officer (COO) of United Nigeria Airline (UNA), Osita Okonkwo, hinted that aviation fuel currently sells at N765/litre and as much as N879/litre in the Northern parts of the country.

Okonkwo, whose airline just commemorated the second anniversary, said they came into operation when Jet A1 was less than N200/litre. But in about a year, it has climbed to N500/litre and subsequently N800-plus.

Besides fuel challenges, the foreign exchange has been a challenge given that 99 per cent of inputs in the industry is foreign exchange-based. He said: “We suffered a double-jeopardy in the area of forex. One is that of access to forex and second is availability and its cost (on the parallel market). The cost moved from N400-plus to N900/$, if you are not lucky to get from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Currently, CBN meets only 20 to 30 per cent of our needs and that takes time despite you having Aircraft on Ground (AOG) and urgently needs spare parts from abroad. It has really been difficult. Put together, what we have seen is the escalating rate of the operational cost,” Okonkwo said.

The spike in the cost of fuel and operations had also spiked airfares with airlines raising N35, 000 economy flights by 100 to 200 per cent.

“But, what we have also seen due to the economic situation in the country is that people are not flying at N70, 000. So, airlines have also reacted despite what people are saying that we are colluding to fix prices. Now, you can get tickets of N40,000 to N50,000. But I can assure you that investors are underwriting those costs because there is no airline that flies at N40,000 and still remains in business.

“That the Nigerian operators have survived the fuel crisis is again a testament to promoters and investors who continue to pump in their own capital to keep the airlines flying. There is nothing magical about the fares outside of that. Many airlines outside of Nigeria actually closed shop and many got huge handouts from the government to keep afloat, but we are not so lucky in this part of the world,” he said.

Okonkwo added that UNA built its business model around a long-haul plan and it has helped the airline to keep going, tackling all challenges on the way. He, however, advocated a special intervention fund, as is the norm in other parts of the world, coupled with well-capitalised aircraft leasing companies to serve local operators at affordable rates.

Nigeria Asks Emirates To Resume Flights - SIMPLY FLYING

FEBRUARY 18, 2023


The country’s president said Nigeria will make additional foreign exchange available for affected airlines.

The country of Nigeria hopes that flights from Dubai-based Emirates will resume soon. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari called for the airline's return last week and reportedly directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to produce more foreign currency available to Emirates.

The move comes after Emirates suspended flights to the West African country last year, citing the lack of progress in repatriating funds due to the country's severe dollar shortage. The airline reportedly negotiated in several meetings with representatives from the Nigerian aviation ministry to discover solutions to release the funds.

Calling on the airline

Buhari posted on Twitter earlier this week that while he spoke to United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to offer condolences on the death of his mother-in-law, he also informed him about the effect of suspended flights.

"I also called for a resumption of suspended Nigerian operations of Emirates Airlines," Buhari said. "I assured Sheikh Mohamed that the fund repatriation issues that led to the suspension are receiving appropriate attention. We will make additional foreign exchange available for affected airlines."

The relations between the UAE and Nigeria are essential, according to Buhari.

"Nigeria and the UAE have enjoyed excellent and beneficial relations for many years, including at the highest political levels. We can and must continue to iron out whatever issues arise between us," he said.

Buhari also mentioned that his country is mindful of the consular issues relating to the behavior of some Nigerians in the UAE. He said Nigeria will ensure the application of necessary sanctions, through the appropriate judicial process, against anyone identified to have committed criminal acts in the UAE.

What happened?

Emirates halted Nigerian flights twice last year to protest against its ticket revenue being withheld. Following several unsuccessful meetings with the government of Nigeria, the halt occurred indefinitely.

According to ch-aviation, Emirates had proposed a plan to progressively release at least 80% of its funds by the end of October 2022. When this did not follow through, the carrier pulled its routes, claiming its Nigerian operations were running at a loss and were no longer commercially viable.

On September 11th, Emirates reinstated its flights to Nigeria after suspending them on September 1st. The carrier demanded the payout of $85 million of its revenue after the Central Bank of Nigeria released $265 million to international airlines to settle outstanding ticket sales.

According to the International Air Transport Association, Nigeria topped the list of culprits worldwide by withholding $551 million of airlines' funds, which Nigerian authorities reportedly engaged with airlines to find solutions.

Photo: Emirates

Challenges in Nigeria

Repatriation issues first arose in March 2020 when the demand for foreign currency in the country outpaced its supply. Banks throughout Nigeria could not provide currency repatriations, while the country's federal government implemented a currency change. According to ch-aviation, Buhari authorized the central bank to redesign major Nigerian bank notes, but it caused a cash shortfall.

Earlier this month, the Nigerian President said he was aware of the cash shortages and hardship faced by people and businesses on account of the Naira redesign. Violent protests have also erupted in Nigeria over the scarcity of cash. This week, protesters reportedly attacked automated teller machines and blocked roads in three cities.

Nigeria Immigration To Introduce More Passport Reforms - ARISE NEWS

FEBRUARY 18, 2023

The agency has three areas of focus, which are e-border management, passport reforms and staff welfare.

Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, (NIS), Isah Idris, has promised Nigerians to look forward to more passport reforms that would ease the pains currently associated with the system.

The CG, disclosed that the new improved passport system on introduction would deepen passports reforms in Nigeria for excellence in the discharge of NIS mandate.

Idris made gave the promise at the decoration ceremony of the agency’s newly promoted senior officers to the ranks of Assistant Comptroller Generals, (ACGs) and Comptrollers of immigration on Friday in Abuja.

He said the agency has three areas of focus, which are e-border management, passport reforms and staff welfare, of which it has continued to make improvement by ensuring that no stone is left unturned in the attainment of these targets.

He said: “Our statutory mandate as both law enforcement and service delivery agency demands that we masterly deploy our best hands across service and operational windows to ensure that we regularly and consistently make enduring impressions on the minds of those we relate with.

“We are leaving no stone unturned in our pursuit to excellently discharge our mandate through priority attention given to human capacity development and timely promotion of officers and men.”

The CGIS added that “the NIS is saddled with the management of migration thus; we have taken necessary steps including deployment of technology in the discharge of our duty.”

He however tasked the newly promoted senior officers, eleven ACGs and thirty-five Comptrollers, to bring to bear hard work, commitment, self-discipline and honesty and integrity among others, as a show of loyalty and dedication to duty.

He told the newly promoted officers that:”Promotion is a product of high level exercise, hard work, commitment, self-discipline, honesty, integrity and above all, loyalty. Loyalty is the totality of the other virtues as those who must command must first learn to obey.

“Your new ranks automatically places you in positions to make critical decisions that will determine the fate of officers and men as well as the course of progress in the Service therefore as you wear your new ranks, your coordination, perspective and focus must be absolutely service centered, nationalistic, just and fair in all you dealings.”

Public Relations Officer, (PRO), of the Service, Tony Akuneme, who was elevated to the rank of Comptroller of Immigration, told journalists that the enormous task that comes with the new ranks is a call for greater commitment and service to the nation.

He said as a spokesperson of the service, he has mentored his subordinates to take on the role of a PRO with passion, responsibility and selflessly because his new rank comes with new responsibility.

Akuneme, while expressing his happiness over the promotion, said: “All we need to carry out our tasks is dedication and passion and if you love your country, there is no way you won’t be able to put in extra effort and hours whether you are paid for it or not as long as you see the results.

“I am happy that with the help of the media, the narrative and perception of the service is beginning to change, the NIS being in the news for the right and positive reasons and I am positive that this will continue even if I am given new responsibility.”

Michael Olugbode in Abuja

Schiphol airport slumps to net loss in 2022 marked by chaos - THE CANADIAN PRESS

FEBRUARY 18, 2023

AMSTERDAM (AP) — The company that owns one of Europe's busiest aviation hubs, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, slumped to a net loss of 77 million euros ($82 million) last year as months of travel chaos hit its bottom line.

“Never before in Schiphol’s history have we disappointed so many travelers and airlines as in 2022," CEO Ruud Sondag said in a statement Friday.

The busy airport on the outskirts of the Dutch capital was one of several across Europe that was hit by staff shortages and soaring demand as air travel rebounded strongly from two years of COVID-19 restrictions. Airlines and airports slashed jobs during the pandemic, making it difficult to quickly ramp back up to serve the new burst of travelers.

Over the busy spring and summer periods, staff shortages at Schiphol often forced passengers to wait for hours in a long line that snaked out of the terminal, along an approach road and back into the airport.

The airport announced a compensation scheme for travelers whose vacation plans were derailed by cancellations or missed flights. In September, CEO Dick Benschop quit, saying he wanted to “give Schiphol the space to make a new start.”

His replacement, Sondag, said 2022 will “go down as a bad chapter in our own history books. But it is also a chapter we will not forget, so that all new chapters we write will be better.”

The Associated Press

Germany’s Biggest Airports Hit by Staff Walkouts Over Pay - BLOOMBERG

FEBRUARY 18, 2023

(Bloomberg) -- Germany’s two largest airports came to a virtual standstill today as ground staff stage another strike over pay, exacerbating an already chaotic week for air travel after a system outage brought down Deutsche Lufthansa AG’s operations two days ago.

Security and other ground crew in Frankfurt and Munich began their one-day walkouts early Friday, leading to 1,300 flight cancellations for national carrier Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the biggest carrier at the two hubs.

The renewed travel snags come just days after the airline’s global fleet was temporarily grounded when construction workers in Frankfurt severed a communications cable. While passengers were warned ahead of time of the pending strike today, the protests come at a time when air travel was enjoying a robust comeback from the coronavirus pandemic, leading to surging traffic. 

Verdi workers paraded through virtually empty airport halls in Frankfurt on Friday, clad in high-vis vests and waving flags. The protests are driven by the soaring cost of living after Russia’s war in Ukraine caused energy prices and inflation to jump. They risk complicating travel plans for delegates attending the Munich Security Conference — a major annual gathering of defense and foreign policymakers.

‘Complete Chaos’

Simone Perroni, an economics professor at University of Trento, arrived Thursday evening in Frankfurt on a delayed Lufthansa flight from Verona, Italy. After missing his connecting flight to Amsterdam, he had to stay the night and was told he couldn’t fly Friday due to the strike. 

“You lose hours of work and have your family waiting at home. It’s been very frustrating,” Perroni said, adding that he had to hold his planned in-person meeting in Amsterdam from a cafe in the Frankfurt airport instead.

Pardeep Parashar, an administration professional, arrived in Frankfurt Thursday night on an Air India flight from Delhi. He was supposed to fly for work to Warsaw with Lufthansa on Friday and from there to Szczecin. He still hasn’t been told when he’ll fly tomorrow or where he’ll sleep tonight.

“It’s been a terrible experience,” Parashar said. “Next time, I will fly directly to Warsaw from Delhi.”

Both Perroni and Parashar said they found out about the cancellations upon arrival in Frankfurt last night and then had to line up with more than 500 people at a service desk by three people. They waited more than four hours to be put in a hotel.

“It was complete chaos,” Perroni said.

Broader Strikes

It’s not just Germany where protests have erupted over what workers consider unfair pay amid soaring cost-of-living expenses. UK rail workers have temporarily brought large parts of the country’s train network to a virtual standstill in recent works, and in France, people are protesting plans of extending the retirement age.

Read more: Lufthansa’s Global Fleet Grounded by Four Snapped Cables

Labor union Verdi called the strike, citing dissatisfaction over collective-bargaining negotiations with the various companies and public agencies that employ ground staff. It’s demanding a pay increase of €500 ($543) a month for some workers and higher holiday-shift compensation for others.

“The employees are jointly putting pressure on the respective employers because no results have been achieved in the previous negotiations,” Verdi official Christine Behle said in a statement, pointing to another round of talks on Feb. 22.

Air traffic, particularly leisure travel, has bounced back strongly from the pandemic. The surge caused chaos at airports across Europe last summer after operators and ground personnel struggled to meet demand.

Strikes are also taking place at Stuttgart, Hamburg, Dortmund, Hanover and Bremen airports. Verdi held a similar walkout at Berlin’s main hub last month, cutting Germany’s capital off from international air travel. 

Outside the Frankfurt airport, Verdi’s Christoph Miemetz rallied the striking workers. “They’ve messed around with us for years at the airport,” he said to loud cheers. “We have tough years behind us.”

(Updates with passenger interviews beginning in fifth paragraph.)

Air France ‘Turns Page’ On Covid, Sees Higher Profit This Year - BLOOMBERG

FEBRUARY 18, 2023

(Bloomberg) -- Air France-KLM said is has “turned the page” on the coronavirus pandemic that prompted an unprecedented industry slump and forced a government bailout, predicting that it will exit state aid this year and return to full passenger capacity by the end of 2023.

The airline group reported net income of €504 million ($528 million) in the fourth quarter, compared with a loss in the same period last year, according to a statement today. Revenue reached about €7.1 billion — a record — from €4.8 billion a year earlier. 

The carrier said its medium-term ambition is to reach an operating margin of 7% to 8%, up from just 1.9% in the fourth quarter amid surging fuel prices and disruptions at the Amsterdam hub.

“We close out the year with a positive net income, having turned the page on Covid, and look to the future with confidence in our ability to address the challenges ahead,” Chief Executive Officer Ben Smith said in the release. 

Underscoring the airline’s recovery drive, Air France said it wants to fully exit the remaining state aid program by the middle of April, giving it more flexibility to resume its growth path, including possible acquisitions. The airline said it will continue to invest in its fleet this year, and will take delivery of new Airbus SE single-aisle aircraft in the course of 2023.

Air France rose as much as 4% to €1.74 in Paris, the biggest gain in more than a week. 

The global aviation industry has enjoyed a robust comeback since most countries lifted their coronavirus restrictions and people resumed travel for business and leisure. Airbus said yesterday that it’s increasing the rate of production on its largest aircraft to meet rebounding long-haul demand, and budget carriers like Ryanair Holdings Plc have said that summer bookings point to a robust summer season. 

The Dutch KLM arm was held back last year by massive disruptions at the Amsterdam hub, as the surge in travel proved too much for airlines and ground personnel to handle. As a result, the airport instituted capacity restrictions that weighed on the division’s results in the fourth quarter. 

Amsterdam Schiphol said in a separate release that it had a loss of €28 million last year despite what it called a strong recovery in traffic, and the hub’s efforts to mitigate the chaos led to additional costs of about €120 million, it said. 

“Never before in Schiphol’s history have we disappointed so many travelers and airlines as in 2022,” Schiphol Group CEO Ruud Sondag said in the release. 

(Updates with stock performance in sixth paragraph.)

Thousands of flights canceled as German airport staff strike - THE CANADIAN PRESS

FEBRUARY 18, 2023

BERLIN (AP) — Thousands of flights to and from German airports were canceled Friday as workers walked out to press their demands for inflation-busting pay increases.

The strikes at seven German airports, including Frankfurt, Munich and Hamburg, affected almost 300,000 passengers and forced airlines to cancel more than 2,300 flights.

Christine Behle of the Verdi labor union told public broadcaster RBB-Inforadio that failure to reach a meaningful deal with employers on pay could result in a “summer of chaos” at German airports.

The union is seeking a 10.5% increase for its members, or at least 500 euros, to make up for high inflation seen in Germany and elsewhere last year due to the knock-on effects Russia's attack on Ukraine has had on global food and energy prices.

Verdi chairman Frank Werneke told weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that the willingness among its members to stage strikes was big and future walkouts could reach “another dimension.”

He noted that recent strikes at airports, public transport and childcare facilities could be extended to garbage removal services and hospitals.

The Associated Press

Air France-KLM sees robust bookings after better-than-expected Q4 - REUTERS

FEBRUARY 18, 2023

By Joanna Plucinska

LONDON (Reuters) -Air France-KLM said on Friday its 2023 bookings were almost back to pre-pandemic levels as it reported a better-than expected fourth-quarter operating profit with global travel demand seeing a rebound.

The airline's shares rose more than 6% in early trade, hitting their highest since June and outperforming the broader weak stock market. The pan-European STOXX 600 was down 0.85% at 0805 GMT.

The carrier reported its highest fourth-quarter revenue at 7.1 billion euros ($7.55 billion), up almost 50% year-on-year.

Operating profit fell 45% to 134 million euros on the back of higher costs including fuel, but it beat estimates.

Last year was a difficult one with the travel industry struggling with pandemic-related restrictions and as prices of jet fuel and other key products soared due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Chief Financial Officer Steven Zaat said.

Air France also lost 170 million euros in revenue last year due to travel disruptions at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport after the airport restricted capacity last year due to staff shortages.

"I'm very happy that we can say now that 2022 Q4 ended better than where we ended in Q4 2019," Zaat added.

The company said it was on track to fully pay back French state aid by April 2023, reporting a net debt of 6.3 billion euros, down 1.9 billion euros from the previous year.

Zaat, however, said staffing shortages at Schiphol airport may not be resolved before end-June.

Royal Schiphol Group said on Friday it was not certain when the airport will return to 2019 levels of traffic, given continuing operational difficulties and a 440,000 per year flight cap imposed by the Dutch government.

"It is improving, so that's very good to see. Of course, we are still impacted by the fact that there are labour shortages everywhere, but also at the airport ... but we see that gradually operations are actually back on track," Zaat said.

Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith also warned that European airlines would have to go head-to-head with Chinese carriers, which are still able to fly over Russian airspace.

"Between Paris and Seoul, it can add up to three hours in flight time," Smith told the Financial Times. "If you've got a Chinese carrier that is flying over Russia, they've got an unfair advantage over us."

($1 = 0.9403 euros)

(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Sandra Maler, Sherry Jacob-Phillips, Josephine Mason and Shounak Dasgupta)

Mercedes Cars Become More Elusive After 43% Jump in Prices - BLOOMBERG

FEBRUARY 18, 2023

(Bloomberg) -- Driving a shiny new Mercedes-Benz may soon become a distant dream for many but the most affluent. 

The average price of a Mercedes reached some €72,900 ($76,590) last year — a 43% increase over 2019 levels. That chimes with the carmaker’s push even further upmarket by focusing on top-end models like the S-Class sedan to bolster profits. The company has been working through pent-up demand after chip shortages curbed production last year.

Mercedes is hiking the prices even of entry-level models like the A-Class hatchback. Drivers are increasingly only be able to buy versions of the car with bells-and-whistle options as standard.

Mercedes isn’t alone. Around the world, manufacturers are reaping the benefits of selling fewer but more expensive cars. In the US, average monthly payments for a new car nearly doubled from late 2019. And as battery-powered vehicles tend to cost more than the average combustion-engine car, the shift to EVs may make the affordability crisis even worse.

Read more: Car Prices Hit Record High as Automakers Limit Output

--With assistance from Chris Bryant.

We have 400 uncollected Nigerian passports – New York Consulate - BUSINESSDAY

FEBRUARY 20, 2023

The Consul General of Nigeria in New York, Amb. Lot Egopija, has said that 400 Nigerian passports remained uncollected at the Consulate, urging the applicants to come forward and claim them.

Egopija disclosed this at the virtual 8th Town Hall Meeting with the Nigerian Community in New York Jurisdiction.

“Right now, we have so many uncollected passports as at the last count, we have 400 uncollected passports that were produced within the last two years,” he said.

“We have posted the names of the original owners of the documents on our website and also on our community platform, the WhatsApp group,” he added.

“We have also asked Nigerians in the Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), New Jersey Chapter, and other relevant groups, to bring it to the notice of their members,” he said.

“Please, while you get this, circulate and bring to the notice of your members, let them send self-addressed envelopes to us and we would post these documents to them,’’ he said.

According to him, some passports were earlier posted to the addresses provided but they were returned to the Consulate.

He urged those that would like to renew their passports to do so before they expire, saying, “if you begin on time, you’ll certainly get your passports renewed before the expiration date or your intended travel date.

The envoy explained that the call for early renewal of passports was because the Consulate does not have printing machines to produce passports in New York.

“We have been exploring a kind of model where we go to Washington DC once in a month to produce the passports, pending the time when the machine will be installed in New York,’’ he said.

According to him, there are three categories of the new Enhanced e-passport, listing them as the 32-page passport validity, five years, 64-page and 10 years 64-page passport.

He advised applicants to indicate the passport category in their forms, noting that all the categories of passport will require National Identification Number (NIN).’’

Egopija said that the nationals could look up the updated information of NIN centres on its website.

The Consul General said the updated information on NIN had been sent to the WhatsApp platform for the community leaders to pass the information to their members.

He assured that any applicant that meets the requirement would get his or her passport between six and eight weeks, noting that passport timeline for collection is usually in two or three months.

In addition, he assured that the Consulate would continue to be responsive to the yearning of its nationals, adding that the mission has started to recalibrate or change its telephone system.

“We have started to recalibrate or change our phone system whereby we will hear less of complaint that we have called and have not received or our calls have not been picked,” he said.

“We are returning to the old system where all the phone lines will go to the operator who will receive the calls and now send it to the relevant officers,” he said.

He urged the association and group leaders to inform the Consulate about their activities for the year so that the Consulate can participate and factor them in its programmes.

He said that the Mission would be relating with its nationals more this year by visiting them and attending their events, saying, we are open to attending your events if you inform us in time.

“You should let us know when you intend to host or have your National Days and the Flag Raising ceremony, we will come and support you,’’ he assured.


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