The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) have expressed concern about the high cost of operation, heightened by the recent increase in the naira-to-dollar exchange rate.
According to AON, people no longer travel for weddings and other events because they would prefer to send money to the event hosts since they cannot afford the outrageous ticket fees.
The professional association of domestic airlines in the country laments that the aviation fuel price hike has now made it challenging for airlines to conduct scheduled maintenance on their aircraft.
The operators highlighted that this situation poses a significant threat to their existence, as grounded aircraft cannot be transported overseas due to the scarcity of foreign exchange.
They have also warned that if this trend continues, there may not be enough operational aircraft for domestic services.
In a statement issued on Friday by its spokesperson, Professor Obiora Okonkwo, AON emphasized the urgent need for government intervention to prevent the potential collapse of many airlines, with the government ultimately being responsible for their demise.
The airlines expressed their concerns regarding the lack of stability in foreign exchange rates and the significant increase in the price of aviation fuel, which now stands at N1,300 per litre.
These factors have greatly impacted their ability to plan effectively and have created a sense of uncertainty and instability in their operations.
Okonkwo, who serves as the Chairman of United Nigeria Airlines, further elaborated on the issue, highlighting that passengers who had purchased tickets in advance for flights in 2023, when aviation fuel was priced at N700 per litre and the exchange rate was N800/$1, are now being airlifted at the current price of N1,300 per litre and an exchange rate of N1400/$1.
As a result, the airlines are facing substantial losses on these tickets, he observed.
“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,” Daily Trust quoted Okonkwo saying.
Okonkwo stated that numerous businesses in Nigeria are experiencing low profitability. As a result, the entrepreneurs who are crucial for passenger travel during both peak and off-peak seasons have ceased their journeys.
Additionally, he mentioned that the number of individuals travelling for tourism and social purposes is insufficient to ensure airlines maintain a satisfactory load factor and sustain their operations during the current low season.
The statement added: “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.
“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 in 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.
“It is impossible to bring in more aircraft. Aircraft owners have become sceptical because of country risk. A Nigerian airline may meet its terms and all the standard criteria, but the aircraft owners consider country risk above other factors. Country risk supersedes everything, and lessors have their own obligations. So, there is nothing personal. Some airlines deposited money with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) but they cannot provide us the needed dollars.”