Travel rebounds in third quarter operations - THE NATION
The ride out of the ongoing pandemic got smoother for operators in the aviation sector in the third quarter of 2021. This manifested in a significant surge in passenger traffic for carriers opening new routes, acquiring new airplanes, inking codeshare and interline agreements and a few fledgling carriers which joined the industry to deepen competition. KELVIN OSA OKUNBOR reports
Activities in the aviation sector in the last three months have attained headwinds as the sector takes full grip over measures/interventions designed by the government to pull the air transport sector out of the wounds inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is seeing more people returning to the skies.
Enhanced airport screening procedures, increasing vaccination among the populace and other interventions designed to curb the spread of the new variant of COVID-19 has spiked the demand for air travel in the last three months.
Experts say travel has witnessed rebound in the period under review as a few carriers, which include Green Africa Airways, Cally Air, Kanem Air, and United Nigeria Airlines made audacious entrance into the industry raising the stakes in the logistic value chain.
The new carriers have not only deepened competition in the sector in the period under review, but has brought about competitive fares on the routes where carriers were charging arbitrary fares.
With a low entry fare otherwise known in aviation parlance as promotional fares, Green African Airways for instance has pushed other carriers to rethink their strategy on operations on the Lagos- Abuja, Ilorin, Akure, Ilorin, Enugu, Owerri, and Port Harcourt routes.
Besides, Green Africa Airways, which offers the lowest fares, Cally Air, Ibom Air, and United Nigeria Airlines, have also upped the ante with competitive fares on major routes, which many passengers and industry watchers describe as the best thing to happen to the sector.
In an interview, Director-General, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu described the last quarter as eventful for the industry, citing statistics confirming increase in passenger traffic.
He said the regulator has engaged operators to step up the safety regime by ensuring that they are briefed regularly on what is expected of them to keep their operations safe and convenient.
Nuhu said the issuance of documents to airlines, ground handling firms and other service providers in the last three months had improved.
In the last three months on-time departure for indigenous carriers has improved as complaints over delays and cancellation of flights is dipping.
Dana Air and Ibom Air posted data indicating improvement in their on-time performance on major routes even as they inked a deal on codeshare/interline agreement.
The deal, according to the Chief Operating Officer of Ibom Air, Mr George Uriesi, is historic in the industry and would be a game changer for passengers desiring to connect to their destinations using a single ticket booking.
Lead domestic carrier – Air Peace – took delivery of its fourth regional Brazilian Embraer jet to consolidate its operations and deepen penetration on the logistic value chain. The new generation aircraft the carrier said is part of the 13 airplanes it paid for a few years ago.
Air Peace expanded its flight services into Gombe in the Northeast; Ibadan in the Southwest and Duola, the coastal/commercial hub of Cameroon in Central Africa. Besides Air Peace, Aero Contractors, Nigeria’s oldest carrier, also expanded flights into Bauchi State in the Northeast.
The state Governor, Bala Mohammed described the venture by the carrier as one of the audacious initiative needed to jumpstart the economy of the region. He said air transport with an airline such as Aero Contractors, with its safety and operational pedigree, will create a platform to trigger economic development of the region. More investors are showing interest to venture into aviation as NCAA is processing over 23 applications for prospective operators.
Among the new carriers hoping to secure licence from the NCAA are Cardinal Airlines, NG Eagle Airlines, Value Jets Airlines, and Jet Airlines.
An analyst, Dr Alex Nwuba, said more people expressed interest to set up airlines in various categories of carriage.
Aside scheduled passenger operations, Nwuba said more players are seeking approvals to ply their trade in the cargo/logistic value chain.
Aligning his views, another expert, Mr Tayo Ojuri, said the optics looked better in the third quarter as investors were latching on cheaper access to aircraft leasing to kick off cargo/courier-based airlines.
A few states – Anambra, Ebonyi , Yobe and Ogun – have consolidated on airport projects in their domains expected to open up their economy.
Significantly, more state governments engaged airlines to open up their corridor for flights.
Bayelsa, for instance, witnessed the commencement of scheduled flights into its airport in Ammassoma, a few minutes’drive from its capital,Yenogua.
Enugu Airport recommenced international flights with Ethiopian Airlines reconnecting the Southeast with other parts of the world through Addis Ababa.
The move, watchers said, is part of the headwinds achieved in the last three months.
On infrastructure, the industry took a leap to address complaints as the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) procured a mobile tower for some of its airports.
The move, the Managing Director, NAMA, Captain Fola Akinkuoto, said would address the gaps at the airspace agency.
The period under review was not devoid of controversies as the NCAA evolved amicable ways of resolving disputes between it and airlines.
The new curve in navigating landmines, experts say, will starve off frequents altercations.
Vice Chairman, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) Allen Onyema said unfounded claims by operators could create negative safety rating and perception for aviation and its regulator in the global community.
He said it was modest for airlines to approach the NCAA and other agencies on how to scale hurdles instead of throwing up claims that would portray the sector in bad light.
Onyema’s take came on the heels of the problem between NCAA and a logistic and helicopter company, Tropical Arctic Limited, which called out the regulator over infractions on delay in the renewal of their air operator’s certificate.
The Chief Operating Office of TAL, Femi Adeniji had alleged infractions on the part of the NCAA ‘s airworthiness and licensing department in renewing its AOC.
The helicopter company said the NCAA connived with a Danish firm to erect road block on its way to get its operational certificate renewed.
Many analyst describe the TAL/ NCAA imbroglio, as the lowest point in the sector in the last three months saying such development was avoidable if the sector needed quick wings in its riding out of the pandemic wrought pangs from a regulatory perspective.
Driving home the position, an investor who pleaded not to be named, said: “The altercation between NCAA and TAL is unnecessary. Both parties have to seek a common ground and resolve the issues so as not to blight the reputation of Nigeria in the global aviation arena.”
Vexed over the issue, the umbrella body of indigenous carriers said: “No operator can bully the civil aviation regulator for failure to do its bidding. As a body we dissociate ourselves from airlines which have found it fashionable to tar the NCAA with a dirty brush which misrepresents the entire industry. In the last few months the sector has been awash with all manner of labelling which is exposing the sector unduly. It is unthinkable for anybody to suggest that the regulatory authority could be harassed for failure to accede to any operator’s request.”