NIGERIA: Impetus For Airlines’ Crave For New Aircraft

A new culture is evolving in the Nigerian aviation sector as operators are going through a mutation of phasing out geriatric aeroplanes which dominated their fleet a few years ago.

Under the new arrangement, a myriad of factors – strategy, cost considerations, market demand, and industry perception-is increasingly paving the way for new aeroplanes as operators embrace the global fad of gathering new aircraft in their fleet.

But, the new move is not by accident as the operators are driven by a myriad of factors. They include economics, the environment, emerging technology, legislation and regulatory considerations.

The journey to get new aeroplanes in their fleet, according to experts, may not have come by happenstance, but a carefully thought-out strategy programmed to alter the narrative about the age of aircraft in the fleet of indigenous carriers.

In the last decade and more, a series of events, including air crashes, lax regulatory regimes, allegations of  “cutting corners” by operators and other infractions earned the Nigerian aviation sector the toga of where “flying coffins” littered the airspace.

A few unsavoury developments in the last decade have forced the government to unveil radical policies and reforms that changed the face of civil aviation in the country.

Why are Nigeria carriers using older aeroplanes?  This question has provoked a robust debate in the sector in the last decade, with industry players unable to reach unanimity on the vexed issue.

Experts say lack of access to low-interest capital and absence of appropriate instruments to facilitate the leasing of aircraft acquisition have been cited as part of the hurdles operators have been struggling with before the  Cape Town Convention:  an instrument that makes it easy for airlines to acquire an aircraft became effective over a decade ago.

Significantly, the Cape Town Convention and Protocol, according to a former Director-General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr Harold Demuren is intended to reduce risks for creditors, and consequently, the borrowing costs to debtors in getting new aeroplanes.

According to him, the instrument is intended to promote the granting of credit for the acquisition of more modern and thus more fuel-efficient aircraft.

But then, experts say there is a quick disconnect between aviation safety and the age of an aircraft.

Sadly, some of Nigeria’s commercial airlines have the oldest aircraft fleet in Africa.

According to data gleaned from; a website that offers updates on the registration, status and age of aircraft; many aeroplanes hovering in the Nigerian airspace have an average age of 19 years and more.

In sharp contrast to the age of airline fleets in Nigeria, major African airlines, including Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, Africa’s oldest, Rwandair, Royal Air Maroc and Kenya Airways have fleets with an average age of between 11.4 years and 5.8 years. Rwandair, founded in 2002 and the youngest of the African airlines, has a fleet average age of 7.1 years.

A random check on the fleet of Nigeria’s airlines indicates that the carriers still parade old aeroplanes in their fleet.

However, experts argue that there is no correlation between the age of an aircraft and its safety rating inasmuch as the operator undertakes maintenance repairs on the aircraft.

A member of the industry think-tank group; Aviation Safety Roundtable Initiative (ASTRI), Mr Olumide Ohunayo said the age of an aeroplane has nothing to do with its safety rating.

Ohunayo said: “As far as aviation is concerned, what matters is the maintenance schedule enforced on airlines by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and that is what keeps the airspace safe.

“The only problem with using an older aircraft is that it involves more fuel consumption and maintenance when compared to using newer models for flight services.”

Aligning with his position, an official of one of the leading carriers who pleaded not to be named said in 2018 alone, the carrier spent between $2.5 million and $3.5 million every 18 months to carry out C-check on aircraft in its fleet.

The official said maintenance of aircraft in the airline’s fleet was carried out in some of the best places in the world.

He said: “As professionals, we cannot be talking about the age of an aircraft because it has no impact on its safety. What matters is maintenance and we use some of the best facilities in the world.”

But, some old aircraft have been involved in air crashes in Nigeria, a situation that forced the Federal Government to evolve harsh measures, including setting an age limit for aeroplanes to be flown or brought into the country by indigenous carriers.

In 2002, the Federal Government formulated a policy that prohibited aircraft over 22 years from operating in the country’s airspace.

The 22-year age limit for aircraft flying in the country was part of the knee jerk reaction to the crash of a British Aerospace Company (BAC) 1-11 aircraft belonging to Executive Airline Services (EAS) Airlines in Kano.

Specifically in 2012, the Federal Government also imposed a 15-year age limit for aircraft operating in the country.

The decision was taken in the wake of the fatal Dana Air crash, which did not go down well with operators and industry experts who said the development threw up circumstances that propelled operators to pay significantly higher lease rates for aircraft.

As a consequence, the minimum rate for 15-year-old aircraft in 2012 was around $220,000 per month, compared to $120,000 for 18-year-old planes. The 15-year ban policy, which many experts and industry watchers described as unpopular, occasioned the retirement of many aeroplanes in the fleet of scheduled commercial airlines.

But, the last is yet to be heard on the matter as a recent study carried out by the global airline’s regulator-International Air Transport Association (IATA) links the retirement of old aeroplanes to a variety of factors.

A recent study by SGI Aviation, ordered by IATA said the average retirement age of a freighter aircraft is 32.5 years and for a passenger aircraft 25.1 years.

IATA said: “More than half of the aircraft which are utilised for commercial operations are retired between the age of 20 and 30 years.  Freighters accounted for 17 per cent of all the commercial aircraft retirements. Freighters tend to retire later than passenger aircraft.”

The IATA study reveals that the average retirement age for aircraft increased from 18.8 years in 1980-1984 to 29.4 years in 2005- 2009.

The retirement age, according to IATA, dropped to 27.6 years in the past six years due to the record-high oil prices in the early 2010s.

IATA is not a lone voice on the vexed matter. A study by another global regulator listed factors governing the retirement of aeroplanes to include;  pressurisation cycles, hours of flights and fuel efficiency.

Enter the age of tear-rubber aircraft

The narrative about the use of old aircraft altered in 2006 when Arik Air burgeoning at the material time brought in several new aeroplanes; Airbus 330, Boeing 747- 700/800 and Airbus 340 in a huge campaign it christened “Tear Rubber Airplanes”

The drive to have new aeroplanes continued in the sector with the thriving carrier for a few years until a combination of factors gradually plunged it into an uncertain future under the receivership of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON).

Air Peace creeps in

In a twist of fate, the entrance of another carrier, Air Peace also furthered the thrive to saturate Nigerian airspace with new aircraft.

A few years into its operations, the carrier embarked on what the industry would describe as an audacious move when it broke the record announcing on September 13, 2018, the booking for 10 Boeing Max 8 new aeroplanes. The deal was valued at $1.17 billion.

Besides Air Peace, Arik Air and Green Africa Airways had placed firm orders for over 108 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.

While Green African ordered 100, Arik asked for eight Boeing 737 Max 8 prototypes.

None is yet to take delivery of the aircraft type.

Arik Air, on May 9, 2016, announced that it has ordered eight Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft without fixing any date for the delivery of the aircraft, Green Africa Airways on its part on December 21, 2018, placed its order for 100 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.

The 100 aircraft by Green Africa Airways was split into 50 firm orders and 50 options.

The deal was worth an estimated $11.7 billion at current list prices, making it the largest Boeing aircraft order from an African carrier.

While many industry players and experts lauded the carriers for the bold initiative, the carriers continued to navigate new curves.

Undaunted, Air Peace, on April 3, 2019, placed a record order for 30     new Embraer 195-E2 planes, the first of such in Africa. The transaction included 13 firm orders purchase rights for another 17 E195-E2 jets. The request has 124-seater jets in dual-class and 146-seater jets in single class configurations.

The deal, which was unveiled during Embraer Business Meeting with the aviation world in Port Louis, Mauritius, made the Nigerian firm the first to order the brand of jets on the continent and also the official launch customer of the brand in this part of the globe. With all purchase rights exercised, the contract had a value of N640.5 billion ($2.12 billion) based on the current price list.

Some of the aircraft have been delivered while Embraer promised to deliver the others in 2022.

Since the romance between Air Peace and the Brazilian aircraft maker began to blossom, the Nigerian airspace is increasingly becoming attractive to different types of aeroplanes.

Only recently, Air Peace took delivery of two new Airbus 320 to boost its operations. The airline, according to its spokesperson, Mr Stanley Olisa, was acquired in its drive to meet the growing travel needs in Nigeria and the larger West African markets where the use of new aeroplanes is gaining traction.

Information gleaned from indicates that among the Embraer 190/195 aircraft operated by 67 airlines globally, the five Embraer 195 E2 that are on the fleet of Air Peace rank the youngest.

State-run carriers alter stakes

As the aviation space deepens for more players, supranational entities are making forays into the airline business.

With bold statements, the state-run carrier: Ibom Air, which started flight operations over two years ago currently operates a relatively new fleet of aeroplanes consisting of Airbus 220-300 and four Bombardier CRJ-90 aircraft.

A few weeks ago, Ibom Air jolted the global aviation sector when it announced the order of 10 Airbus 220 aircraft to boost its fleet of new aeroplanes, which is increasingly advancing the drive for new equipment in the airspace.

The Chief Executive Officer of Ibom Air, Mr Mfon Udom said the choice of Airbus 220 for the state-run carrier is suitable for its equipment needs.

He said the order of the 10 aircraft aligns with the airline’s aggressive growth plan.

He said: “The order of the 10 Airbus A220 is in line with the airline’s aggressive growth plan, which will see us expanding into new domestic routes as well as regional routes covering West and Central Africa in the immediate future.

“The first phase of this expansion is set to cover cities such as Malabo, Douala, Libreville, Kinshasa, Accra, Abidjan, Freetown, Banjul and Dakar. Ultimately, the airline intends to operate throughout the Continent of Africa.”

The Chief Commercial Officer of Airbus, Mr Christian Scherer said “we are thrilled to add Ibom Air as a new Airbus customer. The A220 is ideally suited to Nigeria’s aviation needs, providing operational flexibility, growing the business, and responding to demand increased passenger services. Through this investment, Ibom Air is underscoring its ambition for regional and, in due course, international connectivity, efficiency and versatility.”

Fixed-wing operator changes style

As Nigerian carriers optimise the use of suitable aeroplanes, some operators are considering mixing their fleet to meet market dynamics.

To fuel this impetus, fixed-wing operator Overland Airways, reputed for its use of turbo propeller aircraft in secondary airports in Nigeria navigated another curve when it ordered six new Embraer regional jets to boost its fleet.

Investigations reveal that while Overland Airways will be paying the Brazilian aeroplane maker $299 million as the total value of the firm order, it has placed three new Embraer 175 and purchase rights for another three.

Speaking at the Dubai Airshow, President and Chief Executive Officer of Overland Airways, Captain Edward Boyo said: “We are confident that this is the right moment to invest, as regional aviation is on an optimistic post-pandemic recovery. Our customers will really enjoy all comfort in the E175, and we appreciate our partnership with Embraer.”

The aircraft ordered, Boyo said, will be delivered with a premium class cabin configuration and 88-seats from 2023. The deal is worth $299.4 million, at list prices, if all purchase rights are exercised.

Cesar Pereira, Vice-President for Europe, Middle East, and Africa at Embraer Commercial Aviation said the aircraft maker is exploiting long-term demand for right-sized aeroplanes needed for profitable flight operations in frontier markets, including Nigeria.

As more entities make a foray into the air transport business, a contiguous partner to Akwa Ibom State, Cross River has also set up an airline-Cally Air, which recently acquired some new aircraft in its fleet.

The airline received its 7 Boeing 737-500, in April 2021 and the second Boeing 737 in April 2021 is configured with 142 and 144 seats.

Cally Air will serve the new Obudu International Airport billed for completion soon.

Even fledging carrier NG Eagle Airlines, being packaged by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) has also acquired some new aircraft navigating the skyline.

The two aircraft Boeing 737-700 with registration number 5N-MJG and Boeing 737-800 with registration number 5N-MJF arrived at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos in February 2021 from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Data on age of aircraft

According to data provided by, Dana Airlines is among Nigerian carriers with older aeroplanes flying in the airspace.

At present, it operates a mixed fleet consisting of Mc Donald Douglass 82 and Boeing 737 aircraft.

In contrast to the ageing commercial airlines in Nigeria, Ethiopia Airlines, Africa’s largest, has 104 aircraft, with an average fleet age of 5.8 years.

Arguments for new aeroplanes

Globally, a huge debate has emerged on the motivation by carriers to have new aeroplanes in their fleet.

There is increasing awareness by some proponents that emissions from aircraft and other activities at airports could have an effect on air quality.

Some experts argue that due to technological advancement in aircraft manufacture, new aircraft emit 50 per cent less carbon monoxide and 90 per cent less smoke than those manufactured 50 years ago.

An expert, who pleaded not to be named queried? “Is the claim by airlines that they are reducing emissions by buying new, lower fuel-burning aircraft a genuine reflection of a commitment to protecting the environment.

“Rising maintenance costs in ageing aircraft, fuel burn degradation, fluctuations in used aircraft market value and capital cost of refurbishment and upgrade will, surely, have been the major considerations.

“Perhaps, environmental performance will become the pivotal factor in future aircraft choices but the simple test will be whether airlines will be willing to change or upgrade aircraft platforms if climate-friendly versions are more expensive. It seems highly unlikely that emissions alone will provide the impetus for a fleet renewal decision!

“The propensity to lease rather than buy aircraft means that the real cost of new technology is minimal to airlines; lease rates don’t really move that much in relative, inflation-adjusted, terms when buying a new platform compared to the one being phased out. And, they usually benefit from significantly lower fuel burn and maintenance costs.

“Basic supply and demand principles will drive the cost up, which will influence the cost-benefit equation in future; if the carbon credit cost increase wipes out the savings from lower fuel consumption, the environment may yet prove to be the number one factor in fleet selection.

“Secondly, do airlines maintain or increase ticket prices as a result of the investment in modern aircraft?

“The concern of the high cost of maintenance of older aeroplanes and the high cost of aviation fuel is forcing them to acquire newer aircraft.”

Operators’ views on the use of new aircraft

Chief Operating Officer, Air Peace, Mrs Toyin Olajide, said airlines are gravitating towards new aeroplanes because they are cost-saving and super-efficient. She described new aeroplanes as aircraft for the future. She said: “Brand-new planes are aircraft for now and the future.

“This is because a lot of money will be saved as regards the operating cost. There are savings on fuel; bearing in mind the high cost of aviation fuel in Nigeria. These aircraft coming into the country will help lower operating costs. Their performance is awesome.

“A lot of Nigerians, who hitherto were apprehensive of travelling by air, can now rest assured. This is the plane for them. Once on board such aircraft, you will feel transported to a world of luxury and comfort and most importantly, safety.”

Corroborating her position, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Mr Allen Onyema said the Nigerian aviation sector was in for a raw deal as newer aeroplanes will soon flood the skies.

Onyema also stated that the airline hopes to take delivery of all 13 firm orders by the end of 2022, while it will activate 10 orders from the 17 purchase rights left.

This implies that within the next couple of years, the Nigerian and West African flying public will have about 23 brand-new aircraft to fly in courtesy of Air Peace, in its unwavering drive to interconnect major cities across the African Continent.

Onyema said: “By next year, we hope to receive all the 13 aeroplanes we have already made firm orders for and by the end of 2023, we intend to activate payment for another 10 of the aircraft brand which will bring it to 23. And we have new routes that we want to deploy the aircraft to. We have new routes that we have just opened, and more routes will still come in the coming months.

“The impact of these new planes is massive, especially in the areas of employment creation and further bolstering Nigeria’s image on the international aviation scene, giving her the toga of a country that can boast of an airline with several brand new aircraft, littering the skies and giving travellers an exceptional flight experience.”

 Regulatory verdict

Indigenous operators are not in a lone race to get brand-new aeroplanes in their fleet.

Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation, Captain Hadi Sirika said the move was part of the Federal Government’s roadmaps for the sector.

Speaking in a recent interview, Sirika insisted that the use of brand-new aeroplanes by Nigerian carriers would change the dynamics in airlines’ profitability and sustainability, by driving down maintenance and fueling costs.

The Director-General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu, has described the acquisition of brand-new aircraft by indigenous carriers as a milestone that has triggered a paradigm shift in the air transport sector.

He said: “The use of brand-new aircraft is the right equipment for the sector currently. It not only helps the operator to break even with low passenger figures but brings down the cost of aircraft maintenance. It helps to reduce the operational cost.

“Another factor is that the new aircraft is absolutely great for the environment; it does less pollution. I am really proud that I am the director-general of the regulatory body when this paradigm shift is happening.

“We are all here to work together to grow the industry.”

Global fleet forecast

New dynamics are also evolving in the global aircraft demand space.

Many aircraft manufacturers, including the Boeing Company, Airbus Corporation, Embraer Company; ATR, Bombardier Company are seeking penetration into frontier markets.

Nigeria, in Sub-Saharan Africa, is part of the new markets.

Investigations reveal that many aircraft manufacturers are jostling for the Nigerian market.

According to Chi-Aviation, an international aviation database and consultancy services company that collects and publishes information on aircraft, airlines and airports narrow-body jets account for the highest number of active aeroplanes in use by global carriers with 71 per cent followed by regional active jets at 62 per cent.

Regional turboprop propellers active aircraft account for 55 per cent whereas wide-body jets account for 39 per cent active aircraft by the market group.

For grounded aircraft, wide-body jets account for 39 per cent, followed by regional turbo propellers leading with 45 per cent. Regional jets account for 38 per cent of grounded aeroplanes whereas narrow-body jets stand at 29 per cent.

According to Chi-Aviation, the total global fleet size currently counts 28,083 aircraft, of which 22,764 are active, and 5,319 are grounded in September 2021.

Chi-Aviation statistics revealed that “the active aircraft fleet grew by 22 per cent from September 2020 to September 2021.

“Asia and North America have firmly established themselves at the top when it comes to continents with the most active aircraft. Asia currently counts 7,657, whereas North America has 7,025 active aircraft.

Europe ranks third with 5,737 active aircraft, followed by Africa (881), South America (855), and Oceania (609).

All continents have experienced a rise in active fleets, with Asia witnessing the largest increase, with almost seven per cent more active fleets than the previous month.

The Netherlands’ active fleet grows month after month, and it remains first among the top10 countries with the most active aircraft (with/more than 100 aircraft in its portfolio).

Currently, 218 of the 220 aircraft are active. Hungary, Poland, Japan, the Russian Federation, Ireland, China, Austria, Malta, and Ethiopia are next, accounting for more than 90 per cent of the active fleet.



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