About 47 airlines in the last three decades have closed shops in Nigeria. This was due largely to financial challenges and air accidents that occurred as a result of one technical fault or the other. Such has remained the fate of the industry among other challenges faced by operators in the system. Although the skies of Nigeria have remained relatively safe despite the huge challenges the industry is grappling with. Currently, there are fewer numbers of local carriers operating on the local routes, namely: Air Peace, Arik, Azman, Green Africa, Ibom Air, Max Air, United Airlines etc. The sudden and temporary closure of business by Aero Contractors, one of the oldest operators and the suspension of Dana Air by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), however has opened yet another chapter of what the sector is going through at the moment. The submission of some experts who commented at the wake of the development agreed that airline business in Nigeria is going through tough times and may need every assistance it can get to remain afloat.
If there is any sector of the economy that should not be toyed with, that sector is certainly the aviation industry because of the collateral damage when anything untoward occurs. The surviving airlines at present are encumbered with myriads of operational challenges, according to the regulatory authority. These problems are, but not limited to high cost of maintenance, flight delays and cancellation, high tariffs on landing and demurrage, low capacity owing to high cost of airfare and the ever soaring price of JET–AI blamed on the high exchange rate of the dollar to the naira that has remained on the increase. For many in the industry, the defunct Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) days remained remarkable. It was the period the Nigerian skies was never short of airplane flying in and out of major airports in the country. Till date, people still remember those years NAL operated, and in fact referred to that period as the golden era in the aviation industry, 19 years after the national carrier was liquidated. Air travel is the fastest means of transportation. It will remain so, and the choice of many, especially in our clime where other means of movement are not fully developed, coupled with serious issues of infrastructural decay. No thanks to the security problems that have made road transportation across the country almost impossible, if not a nightmare.
The Director General of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu said recently that the current challenges bedeviling the aviation industry is of grave concern to the regulatory agency. He maintained that the policy of 100 percent safety remains a priority for the authority and that NCAA would do everything as stipulated in the regulations to safeguard the industry. Although airline is private driven business like every other, but the premium placed on the industry, in addition with the heavy financial outlay of aviation business makes it different from other businesses. This may not be unconnected with the palliative given to some of the operators at some point in the past, at the peak of COVID- 19 Pandemic. That gesture extended at that time by the government saved operations of some of the airlines. That may also be the reason why some of them are still flying till today. Air transport preference as the favourite and fastest means of movement within and across borders deserves every attention it can get no doubt, but coming off and on in the air puts fear in the minds of the flying publics. Although, we are aware that this is not normal times, owing to high cost of living that has affected everything, which the aviation sector is not insulated from.
The public needs assurance from the authority that there is no course for alarm in a sector like aviation, especially now that there are pointers that the industry is going through trying times. This is why people are ready to pay as much as #100,000 for one-hour flight, even #190,000 for a round trip depending on the class of ticket. The problems of high cost of air fare, scarcity of aviation fuel and dollars to purchase aircraft parts in the event of emergency, needs government attention. Such intervention would not only cushion the impact of high cost of operation but enable the operators to remain afloat and carry out necessary maintenance on the aircraft which is mandatory, and also to encourage others who may want to invest in the system. Experts have also called for the establishment of aviation bank and for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to also look into how it can create a window whereby airline operators can be assisted at all time to access the dollar to meet their operational needs, going forward.
Allowing the airline operators to go solo in tackling their problems without help from any quarter may not only lead to cutting corners but in fact, may result to closing down of operations like the case of Dana and Aero that have suddenly disappeared from the Nigerian skies. Aviation from what we know is a money spinning industry if well managed. It is high time therefore for players, without exception to know that aviation is one of the critical sectors of the nation’s economy that should not be toyed with, no matter the situation. We therefore encourage the government to see what could be done to address the imbalance in the system before more airlines go under. It is also important to state that, airline business is not an all comers’ affair. Those who do not have what it takes financially to grow their business in thick and thin, should not venture going into airline business to avoid problems such as this, that may lead to unpleasant situations if not properly handled by the authority concerned.