The aviation industry in Nigeria was abuzz in 2022 amid mixed feelings about the lingering expectations, broken promises and mixed targets that dominated the sector in the previous year.
Over the years, air transport in Nigeria has continued to falter despite its strategic place as a major driver of economic development, and its contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) has remained abysmally low.
From the current meager contribution of 0.5 percent to GDP, the federal government has promised to increase the contribution to 5 percent with the implementation of the aviation roadmap that has unfortunately become perennially elusive.
Be that as it may, expectations are high and there is increased optimism for the coming year as the government accelerates the implementation of the roadmap.
Stakeholders started the year with high hopes and expectations after a partial recovery in the previous year from the COVID-19 pandemic. For many operators and industry stakeholders, the recovery witnessed in 2021 was incredible and they forecast a better 2022.
However, the year 2022, according to stakeholders, was a marked improvement as several highly anticipated projects came to fruition despite continuing challenges facing the sector.
Failed Airline Shutdown
As the year was just beginning, the entire industry would have been brought to its knees following the threat by indigenous airlines, under the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), to shut down operations. This was due to the dizzying A1 Jet crisis, which hit an all-time high in the previous year, sending the cost of airline operations skyrocketing.
In a letter from its Chairman, Alhaji Abdulmunaf Yunusa Sarina, to Aviation Minister Senator Hadi Sirika, which was also copied to the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), AON said: “Overtime, the Aviation fuel (JetA1) price has increased from N190 per liter to N700 currently. No airline in the world can absorb this kind of sudden shock from such an astronomical increase in a short period.
“While aviation fuel worldwide is said to cost around 40% of an airline’s operating cost globally, the current increase has pushed Nigeria’s operating cost to around 95%.
“In the face of this, the airlines have engaged with the federal government, the National Assembly, the NNPC and the oil marketers in order to reduce the cost of JetA1, which currently has made the unit cost per seat for a flight an hour in Nigeria today is an average of N120,000”.
The decision to close was made after carriers increased the cost of a one-way ticket to N50,000 in February, making it difficult for many Nigerians to fly.
However, intervention by the federal government and the National Assembly saved the day as operators were given some windows to obtain fuel to sustain their operations, but the problem has persisted as the price of aviation fuel has doubled since N400 per liter that was sold. at that time the airlines threatened to close.
New MMIA terminal
In March this year, Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, the largest airport in Nigeria, witnessed the opening of a new terminal, 40 years after the airport opened with the existing terminal already dilapidated and unable to cope with current growth. of activities at the airport.
On March 22, President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned the airport’s new terminal, a state-of-the-art facility that changed the look and feel of the airport and significantly improved the passenger experience.
The new terminal has 66 check-in counters, five baggage claim carousels, 16 immigration counters at Arrival, 28 at Departure, eight security checkpoints, six passenger boarding bridges with remote boarding and arrival.
Other facilities include two food courts, four premium lounges, 22 rooms and masts, 16 airline ticketing offices, visa on arrival and port health center, prayer areas, over 3,000 square meters of duty-free spaces and more than 5,000 square meters of table service spaces.
But almost a year later, the terminal is still underutilized as many airlines were unable to move there due to the size of the apron which could not accommodate many wide-body aircraft while the government has yet to deliver on its promise to expand the apron. after demolishing some structures, including the former Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) corporate headquarters near the terminal.
Kaduna airport attack
Kaduna International Airport in March this year was attacked by bandits which led to the suspension of flights of Azman Air, the only airline operating at the airport.
The attack also led to the death of a security staff member of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) who was reportedly shot by bandits.
Personnel identified as Shehu Na Allah were attached to the Kaduna Airport VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR) site. Since the attack, the airport has remained with little to no activity as only Azman Air currently operates at Kaduna airport.
Airline departure and return
In the year under review, the airline industry experienced a major boost with the birth of a new airline, ValueJet, even as existing airlines increased their fleets and expanded their routes.
But before ValueJet’s arrival, two major national airlines, Aero and Dana Air, suspended operations. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has suspended Dana Air’s AOC after an audit of the airline.
Additionally, Aero Contractors, for its part, voluntarily suspended flight operations due to a cash crunch. The temporary departure of the two airlines limited seat capacity in the industry, while other airlines explored the gaps by imposing a high cost of tickets as demand was high. But the two airlines are back in the air as they have since resumed operations.
Similarly, one of the national airlines, Azman Air, had its license temporarily withheld due to alleged indebtedness to the tune of N1.2bn. This was after the NCAA read a riot law to airlines for non-remission of N19bn outstanding accrued from Ticket Sales Charge and Cargo Sales Charge (TSC/CSC).
The 18L Track Miracle
Despite the challenges faced by the industry in the previous year that would coincide with the New Year, the completion of the installation of the airfield lighting (AFL) on the national runway of the MMIA was a great relief for the operators .
For the past 14 years, the operators had campaigned for the facility as they have been using the runway without the AFL which allows planes to take off and land at night while arriving flights land on the international runway at any time. since sunset.
Operators typically consume more fuel when aircraft taxi to the domestic terminal after landing at the international wing at night.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had closed the runway on July 7, 2022 for 90 days to install the equipment comprising approach lights, runway lights (Threshold and Center, edge light) and others so that it can return to be complete 24 /7 operations.
However, after three months and three days, the runway was reopened and airlines began to enjoy it.
In the year under review, the ground handling sector also experienced a boost as the main operators Nigeria Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Pls and Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) PLC received several ground handling facilities.
As recently as December, SAHCO purchased loaders, tractors, container dollies, canopied passenger steps, conveyor loaders and air start units from Universal.
The new universal loaders that were manufactured by French Ground Support Equipment (GSE) manufacturer AirMarrel in France are 7,000-ton main and bottom deck loaders.
Trapped funds from airlines
As 2022 winds down, there is an ongoing tense relationship between the federal government and foreign airlines operating in Nigeria over their inability to repatriate their ticket funds.
According to the Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASAs) signed with foreign airlines, they are expected to sell their tickets in naira, while the country’s central bank will provide the dollar equivalent for repatriation. But the repatriation of funds of late has been a tough nut to crack, as many foreign airlines are unable to repatriate their funds, which continue to grow as airline tickets sell out by the hour.
On this basis, Emirates, one of the foreign airlines, halted flights to Nigeria, while other airlines are said to be considering the same option, as funding has risen to around $600 million. Although the government promised to clean up the trapped funds, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which represents airlines has continued to pressure the government.
The establishment of the national carrier, Nigeria Air, missed several targets and deadlines, but the government has remained determined to float the airline this year by selecting Ethiopian Airlines as technical partner. President Muhammadu Buhari also promised that the airline would take off in December, but the takeoff was halted due to a lawsuit filed by the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) which challenged the decision to name ET as the sole bidder.
The case has been adjourned until January 2023, but until then the takeoff of the national airline remains uncertain.
Like Nigeria Air, the airport concession is also the subject of litigation, as one of the bidders has taken the federal government to court to challenge the process.
Until now there has been uncertainty about the implementation of the Aviation Roadmap that has other projects such as the MRO, Aviation Leasing Company, Aerotropolis, among others. It was not clear if the current government would be able to achieve the projects before the end of its term.
New Civil Aviation Law
But in terms of policy implementation, the passage of the new aviation law has been described as a huge leap forward in efforts to improve Nigerian aviation. For example, the NCAA now has a new Civil Aviation Act that repealed the 2006 CAA and addressed various developments in global aviation since 2006.
Similarly, the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) has been transformed into the Nigerian Security Investigation Bureau (NSIB) and its activities now cover the rail, maritime and road transport sub-sectors. Analysts say the new laws for all agencies would revitalize them and improve their performance.
the experts speak
Mr. Olumide Ohunayo of the Aviation Roundtable praised the performance of domestic airlines in the year under review and the airfield lighting installation, but said failure to achieve the roadmap is a disadvantage for the industry.
“With the roadmap not being achieved, I doubt we’ll get genuine investors when the government is almost out,” he said.
Captain Ibrahim Yunusa, an aviation analyst, said: “I think we are on the right track considering the new Civil Aviation Law 2022 in force. Politics will surely take care of almost all aviation problems.”