NIGERIA: Chaos At Airports As Airlines’ Capacities Overstretched

Airlines to Owerri, Anambra, Port-Harcourt, Asaba, Uyo, Calabar, and Enugu are operating at full capacity as many of the airlines find it extremely difficult to cope with bookings. Air Peace, Aero, United Nigeria, and some other carriers sensed the predicament their passengers would be subjected to during the Yuletide season. The carriers laid a great plan by acquiring aircraft on short term lease.

Air Peace had in November signed an agreement with Latvia’s SmartLynx Airlines to wet-lease two Airbus A320s. The carrier’s newly acquired Embraer and B737 aircraft were deemed insufficient for the surging traffic. Aside from that, the carrier had equally deployed its two wide-body B777, a long-range wide-body twin on domestic routes, amid criticisms. Most of the flights within Nigeria are between one hour and one and half hours. The Boeing777-200LRseats317passengers while the 777 300ER seats 396 passengers, depending on the aircraft’s configuration.

The carrier’s decision to deploy the airplane on domestic routes could be as a result of tackling its passenger volume, despite the incontrovertible fact that it does not make economic sense and one that could impact the bottom line of the carrier. While the carrier’s decision may not be faulted as it looks at passenger volume, experts said it is not economical to do so because of per mile cost on the aircraft, landing fees, crew, and ground turnaround time. According to an aircraft engineer who pleaded anonymity: “Turn around time because companies lose money every minute an aircraft is on the ground. This is similar to renting a car and not driving it. Many rules involving crew rest and time limitations occur doing short flights.

“A very significant factor is the number of cycles. Each aircraft is designed to fly a number of hours and a number of cycles (one cycle means a takeoff and a landing). These numbers should be kept balanced. When doing short flights, the number of cycles increases faster than the flying hours, resulting in higher maintenance costs and a shorter life span.” Overall, it is slightly expensive to operate 777 on short-haul flights. But good planning can help curb excess costs. Just last week, United Nigeria Airlines acquired A320 aircraft to further boost its fleet of aircraft and expand its operations. With this acquisition, the aircraft fleet of the airline has grown to eight. Spokesman for the airline, Achillieus-Chud Uchegbu, said that with the additional aircraft, the airline would boost its domestic operations and frequencies this December, adding that this would further make connections easier for the travelling public at this time of the year. Other airlines that equally acquired aircraft on a short term basis are Ibom Air, Arik, and Aero contractors. A former Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, explained that lack of planning may have a role to play in what is happening, adding that lack of data to know exactly what the traffic would be at this time of the year.



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