Eleven days after closure of Abuja airport: The journey so far

by | March 18, 2017 10:35 am

Over one week after the closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja for major repairs on its runway, Kaduna Airport, the alternate airport chosen by the Federal Government for diversion of flights, as expected, is seeing increasing traffic. However, there have been some challenges.

Domestic airlines, which have increased frequencies to Kaduna since the closure of the Abuja Airport with the expectation that the outflow of passengers from international airlines who have refused to ply the route, will patronise them, may have hit the brick.

So far, domestic airlines which have an average seat capacity of 150 have been airlifting an average of 100 passengers on each flight which is far below what they recorded on the Lagos-Abuja route.

A domestic airline operator who spoke with BusinessDay at the weekend said he hoped things get better than they are presently, else they may be forced to reduce frequency on that route to ply other lucrative routes.

As a confirmation to this development, BusinessDay checks showed that desperation for cash flow is forcing airlines to charge below cost of operations on the Lagos-Kaduna route, as passengers who are plying this route may be doing so for business reasons only.

In a bid to compete for that route and seek patronage from overflow of passengers on foreign airlines, domestic airlines are beginning to charge ticket fare as low as N16,000 to N22,000.  

“I expected domestic airlines to charge as high as N40,000 or even N50,000 as they do during peak periods, especially considering the outflow of passengers from international airlines who have refused to ply the Kaduna route, but the reverse is the case, as the fares are relatively low,” Kunle Olusanya, a passenger told BusinessDay at the Lagos Murtala Mohammed Airport, terminal two.

Olusanya explained that the price slash for airlines could be a way to lure passengers who may not have loved to go to Kaduna Airport or a way the airlines could make passengers continue to patronise their airlines, considering the fact that Kaduna is a relatively new market for many passengers and the safer and efficient an airline appears to be, the more patronage they get.

Gabriel Olowo, executive director, defunct Bellview Airlines Limited and president of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative, (ART), told BusinessDay that for any airline to charge as low as N16,000 at a time when foreign exchange has skyrocketed and passenger traffic has dropped, only shows desperation for cash flow.

BusinessDay checks show that it costs an average aircraft over $7000 to operate a one hour flight. These operating costs include pilot allowance, aviation fuel cost, parking and landing fees, crew allowance, catering services, government charges, amongst others. The aircraft has an average of 120 passengers.

With a cost N460 to a dollar, airlines will pay an average of N3.2 million for a one hour trip. If airlines charge a sum of N16,000 per passenger on an aircraft capacity of 120 passengers, the airline will make a sum of N1.9million, far below its operating cost of N3.2 million.

In the same vein, if an airline charges N20,000 on an aircraft with seat capacity of 120, it indicates that the airline will be making a sum of N2.4million.

To make good returns on investment, experts say airlines ought to charge nothing less than N35,000 to N40,000 for a one-way flight on domestic routes. At a cost of N40,000 per ticket, the airlines will realise N4.8million for a one-way flight on a domestic route.  

However, businessmen and helicopter operators have heaved a sigh of relief after the National Security Adviser (NSA) lifted the restriction on helicopter shuttle services between Abuja and Kaduna which was imposed in the wake of the closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport.

It will be recalled that the NSA’s office had cited security considerations for the restriction on the shuttles, but Hadi Sirika, the Minister of State for Aviation, had promised to take up the matter with the office for a workable arrangement.

Meanwhile, the bus shuttles and the train services have continued to enjoy the patronage of air passengers who have been commending the government arrangements to minimise the inconvenience caused by the closure of the Abuja airport.

However, it appears that the claim by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) that the airport is 90 percent ready for operation is not in tandem with the reality on ground as there is still enormous work to be done at the Kaduna Airport.

As at the time of filing this report, engineers were still working on the furniture and fittings. The arrival and the departure areas, which are supposed to be linked with what is supposed to be a ‘free flow passage’ is yet to be constructed. Some inner parts of the terminal, especially areas for concessionaires were still being constructed. The toilets are still not ready as electrical works are still on-going, a situation that could be discomforting for passengers.

The runway has been expanded in both its length and width in a bid to accommodate the number of flights expected at the airport. Safety critical equipment and facilities have also been provided at the runway.

Experts in the field have also picked holes in the claim made by the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) that it had fully calibrated the navigational aids, saying that it takes a lot of processes and time to fully calibrate a functional airport.

Again, BusinessDay gathered that the challenges being faced by passengers are being compounded by the absence of automated teller machines (ATM) within the airport premises. This has made it difficult for passengers to meet transactions that demand cash payment.

The six-week relocation of the Abuja Airport to Kaduna Airport will cost the Federal Government N1.134billion.

Giving the breakdown, Sirika gave the cost implication of logistics for Federal Government agencies to include: Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) N100million, Federal Roads Safety Corps (FRSC) N237million, Nigeria Police N358million, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) 325million, Nigeria Immigration Service N29million and Ministry of Transportation N84million.

He said that the runway repairs would cost N5.8billion.

Passengers, who go through the Kaduna road are still skeptical about their security and have asked the government to step up security measures and checks from the Kaduna Airport to Abuja.

After Ethiopian airline took the bold step of fly into Kaduna, all other foreign airlines operating in Nigeria are bent on not going to Kaduna, despite the patronage Ethiopian airline seems to be getting on that route as the only foreign airline operating into Kaduna.

Foreign airlines continue to list security issues and logistic challenges for not plying Kaduna route and not code-sharing with domestic airlines to pick passengers from Lagos to Kaduna.

A passenger, who identified himself at Steve, told BusinessDay that even till now, the foreign airlines have been benefiting from Nigeria by way of Bi-lateral Air Service agreements and it will be unfair not to look for best alternatives that will be convenient for their passengers.

“If the airlines decide to drop off passengers in Lagos and not make provisions for them to Kaduna, that means they do not have the interest of passengers at heart. Foreign airlines have benefitted from Nigerians by way of bi-lateral operations, it is time for them to give back,” Steve added.

“For operational reasons we are not flying to Kaduna. We intend to drop passengers off at Lagos, after which they can take another flight of their choice to wherever they are going to.

“We are not going to have any form of code sharing and we do not intend to have any partnership with domestic airlines. We do not have enough time to start a partnership with domestic airlines, we need to agree and look at the technicalities,” Hakeem Jimoh, media consultant, Lufthansa Airline told BusinessDay.

International airlines operate six daily flights into Abuja, which include Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France KLM, Turkish Airline, Egypt Airline and South African Airline. With an average of 120 passengers on each aircraft, foreign airline that ply to Abuja airlifts 720 passengers daily. Each passenger will pay an extra N30,000 from Lagos to Kaduna with the refusal of foreign airlines to  patronise Kaduna Airport, BusinessDay’s checks show.

This implies that on a daily basis, passengers will pay a sum of N54million to N74million on the Lagos-Kaduna routes. During the six weeks period the airport will be shut down, passengers would have spent between N2.268billion and N3.108billion.