This has elicited reactions from stakeholders and a stern warning to airlines from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), all in a bid to find common grounds and stem the rapidly growing trend.
Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) who experienced the cancellations on Monday said over 20 flights of various airlines were cancelled due to lack of fuel blaming the operators whom he said knew before hand of the fuel crisis and yet kept on booking passengers.
“Between 0800 hours and 1500 hours at the mm2 yesterday on my way to attend the Minister of Aviation Forum for stakeholders in Abuja, over twenty flights were ‘cancelled’ because of scarcity of fuel. These happened even when passengers for most of these flights have been checked in and boarding passes issued to them.”
“ I never heard that any flight was delayed. The operators of these airlines were all aware that there was insufficient fuel for their scheduled flights, yet they were all checking passengers in for their flights only to get the flights cancelled. The action of these operators, if the NCAA does not feel concern about it now, is an invitation to chaos and induced passengers’ distribution which makes the perpetrators subject to penal law.
He further said,” The trend in this situation could make the airlines and the NCAA accomplices. This was a situation one of the airlines found itself yesterday, but for the quick intervention of FAAN Aviation security staff, the situation could have gotten out of hand. Operators could be worried about the scarcity of fuel and how it is affecting their market earnings, but they and NCAA should be concerned about how to develop an aviation security intervention program to address the fuel crisis and possible copycat of the resultant passengers’ disruptions.”
“Airlines should know that cancellation of flight is better done before passengers are checked in otherwise, the burden on the airlines is bigger than when flights are delayed. Flights are delayed when you there are immediate solutions to for the delay. Flights are cancelled when there are no immediate solutions in the next six hours or more.”
Arik Air, affected by these cancellations had earlier made a statement available to the media calling for understanding and calm.
The statement by its spokesman, Adebanji Ola read that: “The scarcity which has been on and off in the past few weeks has reached an alarming proportion as oil marketers are finding it difficult to cope with the requirements of the airline.”
According to Ola’s statement, the scarcity is more pronounced in Lagos and Abuja hubs where a number of flights had to be delayed while awaiting supply of fuel and some are cancelled due to untimely delivery by the marketers.
“Some of the contributing factors to flight delays include for instance, inadequate and unserviceable bowsers as well as trucking distance to go back and forth between the depots and airport.
Due to the inability of oil marketers to meet our daily fuel requirements because of the number of local, regional and international flights we operate, our operations are most impacted and passengers inconvenienced.”
He appealed for the understanding of their travellers as all stakeholders continue to find a lasting solution to the problem.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in a reaction to all this sent out a strong worded warning to airlines stating that it has intensified monitoring at all the nation’s airports
According to the regulatory body, consequently, any unjustifiable or avoidable flight cancellation will be viewed with utmost seriousness and where culpability is established very stiff sanctions will be applied.
This warning is coming as the agency’s watchdog has received many reports from the Consumer Protection Officers (CPOs) and aggrieved passengers inundating the regulatory agency’s offices across the nation’s airports.
The Regulatory Authority in a statement acknowledged that it is very much aware of the prevailing challenges as regards availability of aviation fuel, notwithstanding, expects that the airlines should follow strictly the requirements Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig.CARs) in carrying out their operations.
According to the NCAA, the circumstances should not open a window for outright impunity and a flurry of cancellations which has consequently rendered air travel in the country a nightmarish experience.
“All Airline Operators are therefore warned to adhere to the Standard and Recommended Practices (SARPs) while dealing with passengers. Many of whom have parted with their hard-earned cash in return for comfort and value while commuting to their destinations.”
“Therefore sufficient notice must be accorded all intending passengers prior to any operational cancellation. Where there is a delay in the service, passengers must be duly informed and light refreshment provided. Operators are advised to ensure tickets are not sold to air travellers when there are perceived or real hitches concerning sourcing of aviation fuel (Jet A1).”
The NCAA advised passengers,”While NCAA is not unmindful of the efforts being made by the Airlines to avoid operational hiccups, passengers are similarly enjoined to exercise restraint and cooperate with airline officials during eventualities.”
“It is noteworthy that the Federal Government of Nigeria is already taking measures that would ameliorate the paucity of Jet A1.These steps would guarantee availability and allow operators provide adequate services.”
“However, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) wishes to reiterate that all airlines should henceforth guard against frequent flight cancellations that will jeopardise the conditions of carriage agreed with the passengers.”