What are airlines and federal government doing to ensure that air transportation is affordable? For the former, one can only identify promo and cheap fares to attract customers but with the current situation in the country as regarding air transport, such promos seem to have been played down as airlines are suffering huge operational costs and are paying through their noses to continue flying. These airlines have also blamed Federal government for not complementing their effort by providing an enabling environment for them to operate and in the final analysis, as operational costs continue to rise so will air fare become more unaffordable to the flying public and when the passengers abandon the airports for the roads it would take a lot more than a few promotional seats to bring them back. In this article ANTHONY OMOH looks at what government is not doing and how it makes air transportation unaffordable.In this time when air fares have sky rocketed and passengers are paying a lot to fly domestically, one wonders what federal government, airlines, are doing to make air travel affordable.
As is evident however, Federal Government has not done much to actually make the operating environment friendly enough for the airlines to run at minimum cost in an effort to charge minimum fares.
Airlines on their own are trying as much as possible to keep some passengers flying with the industry despite the crippling effect the operating environment has on them with the provision of online fares and promo fares that have kept them afloat.
In the last year, airlines like Aero Contractors began the drive to popularise online booking to make sure that passengers get cheaper and affordable fares with their N5, 000 and N7, 000 fares encouraging passengers and even those who could not fly hitherto to fly.
Other airlines including Air Nigeria, Arik Air and even IRS followed suite and have introduced promotional fares to ensure that passengers continue to fly but apart from that nothing else is being done to encourage affordable fares.
Although there have been statements emanating from government talking about how to help airlines reduce their fares, nothing in terms of a concrete arrangement have been made to ensure that these airlines feel government’s impact in the sector.
Simply put, fares will continue to jack since airlines continue to bear the brunt of an unfriendly environment as created by the government.
Even the terminal buildings are not making air transport affordable as of recent they have forced down horrendous charges on the passengers making them part with N1, 000 or N2, 500 monies that would have been put in the tickets.
Airlines cannot go the challenges they face alone as they are riddled with diverse operational fees, exceptional wages and cost of maintaining aircraft and equipment.
With the airlines inevitably compelled to take their aeroplanes abroad for various checks and foot the bills in hundreds of thousands of dollars, most of the airlines cannot but be operating at a loss. Worse still when they want to import spare parts they still have to be taxed by same government
An Airline operator admitted, “The aviation business is fast becoming just too expensive to run.” Airlines, he said, are finding it difficult to break even and taxi their path to profitability.
“We need to lower operating costs caused by high cost of aviation fuel and high interest rates. The aviation business in Nigeria cannot survive in this type of situation,” Demuren declared in Lagos two weeks ago. If he is to be believed though, the government is working at bringing interest rate down to a single digit. “Government is also working on refining crude oil in Nigeria and things will be alright again,” he quipped.
Of recent, after fears that most air travellers due to incessant increment in fares as caused by unavailability of Jet A1 (Aviation Fuel) will stop flying and take to other modes of transport, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) met with the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON).
The meeting was aimed at coming up with a suitable solution to maintain reasonable fares which in recent weeks have been climbing due to the increase in Jet A1 (Aviation Fuel).
As of today Aviation fuel globally has risen but what it entails world over is nothing compared to what domestic airlines pay in Nigeria as the price of the product has hit N220.00k per litre and for a Boeing 737 that uses 3, 600 litres at the current price then fuel price will account for well over 50 per cent of operating cost.
So in truth government has done little to aid domestic airlines to reduce the fares.
The meeting was deadlocked as the operators seized the opportunity to tell the Director General of the NCAA, Dr Harold Demuren of ways of ending the hikes in airfare.
Airlines which were represented by Capt Mohammed Joji, insisted that for any regular supply and reduction in aviation fuel price, removal of payment of Value Added Tax [VAT] which they claim is currently not applicable to other modes of transportation in Nigeria, and reduction in rent payable at the airports.
The operators also asking the government to commence allocation of plots of land to enable them build hangars for their aircraft maintenance.
According to Capt. Joji, once these requests are considered, the operators would stand a chance to bring down fares to govt demand of about $100 [a hundred us dollars] naira equivalent for a one hour flight as it used to be.
These issues being thrown up in the front burner are salient issues that can make or mar the air transport industry.
The airlines have decried certain factors militating against them and have also attributed the unending high costs to payment of import duty on aircraft spare parts calling for waivers forthwith.
Importation of spare parts has been identified as one of the major high cost components in the running of an airline, after fuelling and which cost has been sky rocketing lately to the detriment of the operators.
Dr Demuren who also spoke on this problem said that the issue of waiver of import duty is one of the issues he has taken to the Joint Intelligence Board [JIB] at the presidential villa Abuja in order to save the airlines.
He said that Federal government was looking at ways to ensure that these exercise duties placed on spare parts brought into the country are revoked but airlines say they have heard all the romance stories in the past and that the charges on spare parts amount to multiple taxes.
The airline operators also say that they spend a hell of a lot on maintaining their aircraft outside the country calling of the Federal Government to build a hangar as maintenance cost coupled with the fuel debacle has put the airlines in an unprofitable condition.
It is generally accepted that proper aircraft maintenance is a sine qua non for air safety all over the world but unfortunately in Nigeria, having a standard maintenance hangar has become almost impossible and the implication dire.
Foremost, domestic airlines in the country pay hard currency to fly out their aircraft to countries across the world for maintenance being executed at very high cost. This is besides loss of revenue by domestic airlines on payment being incurred on parking of their planes in foreign hangars during the periodic maintenance and flying charges for flying of their aircrafts through countries back home, among several charges.
With maintenance hangar airlines often argue Nigeria would have had the opportunity of Manufacturing Original Equipment (OEM), which would have given the country some level of manufacturing aircraft spare parts.
The hangar would also have reduced the debt burden of the airlines which pay heavily to maintain their planes outside the shores of Nigeria.
Besides, the hangar will become another source of revenue generation for government, as even airlines from the neighbouring countries will be willing to fly their aircraft down here for maintenance, which means more revenue into the coffers of government.