The harsh economic reality may have taken a toll on Nigerian airlines as the carriers face existential threats and one that could see them fold up if help does not come. The carriers under their umbrella body, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), listed ressons to include forex scarcity, the skyrocketing price of Jet-A1, which is now N1,300 per litre, and the difficulty in acquiring aircraft due to country risk. Besides these challenges, AON also lamented that the aircraft that were due for maintenance have been grounded and cannot be ferried overseas because of the scarcity of forex. The body noted as a result of this, there is a continuous depletion of airplanes in their fleet without replenishment, warning that if this continues the country may not have operating aircraft for domestic services.
The spokesman of AON, Prof. Obiora Okonkwo, who disclosed this, said that airlines needed urgent Federal Government intervention without which many carriers would go under and that in the event of that government would be their undertaker. He pointed out that lack of stability in foreign exchange and the soaring price of aviation fuel, which is now N1,300 per litre, had eroded their ability to plan and has created uncertainty and precariousness in the operation of airlines. Okonkwo, who is also the Chairman of United Nigeria Airlines (UNA), explained that travellers, who bought tickets in 2023 when aviation fuel was N700 per litre and the exchange rate was N800/$1 would be airlifted at the current price of aviation, N1,300 per litre and exchange rate of N1400/$1 and that as result, airlines are recording huge losses on those tickets. “We are making losses on factors that are beyond our control. We are not only faced with the problem of scarcity of dollars; even the aviation ecosystem is feeling the heat. Handling companies have increased the cost of their services, airports have increased their charges and those that service the aircraft have also increased the cost of their services. The monies for these payments are coming from the passengers who are already exhausted financially,” he said. The United Airlines Chairman said that many businesses in Nigeria were making poor returns and that those entrepreneurs, who are the crux of passengers that travel during the high and low seasons, were no more travelling and those who travel on tourism and social engagement were not enough to provide airlines good load factor to sustain their operations at the current low season. “Passenger traffic has shrunk because even those on social engagement like weddings, burials, and other ceremonies may not be inclined to spend money on flight tickets; they would rather send credit alerts to those hosting the events who would appreciate such gestures. So, they pay instead of appearing in person,” he said.
Okonkwo said that airlines wanted to engage the Federal Government to see how it can intervene to save airlines from folding up, noting that presently the government may not understand how serious the situation is to airlines. “Air travel is a catalyst to economic development. There should have been government engagement with airlines at different levels. Airlines do not have special forex allocation; so, they buy at the same place traders who trade Brazilian hair, textiles, and others buy. Our passion to remain in this business is being eroded. We are at the point of oxygen supply. Some airlines are going into a coma. Our equipment is diminishing. The minimal revenues we earn to keep the airlines flying, we convert to pay our lessors.