By Solomon Asowata
For the past five months, Nigerian domestic airlines have been grappling with scarcity of Jet A1, also known as aviation fuel, in the country.
The situation has led to disruption of flight operations, as flight delays and cancellations have become the order of the day at most domestic airports.
Many travellers have been left stranded and frustrated, following their inability to keep up with their various appointments due to their flights being rescheduled.
Concerned observers say that due to this development, the goal of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to transform Nigeria into a global aviation hub may turn out to be a mirage.
They, therefore, underscore the need to initiate pragmatic plans to surmount the challenge posed by the lingering scarcity of aviation fuel in order to realise this dream.
According to the 2016 First Quarter Report released by the Consumer Protection Department of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), domestic airlines recorded 8,478 cases of delayed flight between January and March.
The report said that a total number of 15,434 flights were operated by eight domestic airlines during the period under review, while 281 flights were cancelled.
It said that the airlines in operation were Aero Contractors, Arik Air, Air Peace, Azman Air, Dana Air, First Nation, Med-View and Overland.
Arik Air, which operated 4,926 flights, topped the chart with 2,801 delayed flights and 99 cancelled flights.
This was closely followed by Aero Contractors which recorded 1,762 delayed flights and 94 cancellations out of its 2,823 flight operations.
Air Peace operated 2,686 flights with 1,175 incidences of delayed flights and four cancellations.
However, Arik Air, in a statement signed by its Communications Manager, Mr Ola Adebanji, apologised to passengers for the flight cancellations, which it attributed to the scarcity of aviation fuel.
The statement said that the scarcity, which had been on and off in the past few weeks, had reached an alarming proportion, as oil marketers were finding it difficult to cope with the fuel requirements of the airline.
“The scarcity is more pronounced in Lagos and Abuja hubs, where a number of flights had to be delayed while awaiting supply of fuel and some flights are cancelled due to untimely delivery by the marketers.
“Some of the contributing factors to flight delays include, for instance, inadequate and unserviceable bowsers, as well as trucking distance to go back and forth between the depots and airport.
“Due to the inability of oil marketers to meet our daily fuel requirements because of the number of local, regional and international flights we operate, our operations are most impacted and passengers inconvenienced.
“We, therefore, appeal for the understanding of our guests, as all stakeholders continue to find a lasting solution to the problem,’’ the statement said.
Similarly, Aero Contractors, through its Media Consultant, Mr Simon Tumba, also decried the scarcity of aviation fuel in the country.
“Aero wishes to apologise to its dearest customers over the delay and cancellation of flight operations.
“We are experiencing fuel scarcity as our contracted fuel suppliers are unable to supply fuel to us, while the other suppliers are also unable to supply fuel to us due to the scarcity of aviation fuel.
“We are taking appropriate measures to address this issue as soon as possible by engaging other suppliers to ensure smooth, safe and secure flight operations for our customers,’’ Tumba said.
Worried by the situation, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has warned that it would not fail to sanction any airlines which embark on unjustifiable or avoidable flight cancellations.
Mr Sam Adurogboye, General Manager, Public Relations, NCAA, said that several reports from the Consumer Protection Officers (CPOs) and aggrieved passengers had inundated NCAA’s offices from airports across the nation.
He said: “Operators are advised to ensure tickets are not sold to air travellers when there are perceived or real hitches concerning sourcing of aviation fuel (Jet A1).
“While NCAA is not unmindful of the efforts being made by the airlines to avoid operational hiccups, passengers are similarly enjoined to exercise restraint and cooperate with airline officials during eventualities.’’
According to him, the Federal Government is already taking measures to address the paucity of Jet A1.
Adurogboye noted that these steps would guarantee the availability of aviation fuel and enable airline operators to provide quality services.
Nevertheless, Mr Ikechi Uko, the promoter of the Akwaaba African Travel and Tour Market, said that the lingering fuel scarcity was affecting the brand and integrity of Nigerian airlines.
“Now, almost every Nigerian airline is having problem of brand integrity. We are having frequent flight cancellations and delays, while passengers are kept waiting unnecessarily.
“No airline enjoys treating passengers like that. The situation will only be remedied when the fuel is available.
“If aviation fuel is not available, most foreign airlines will load fuel from other countries but for Nigerian carriers, they don’t have such an option,’’ Uko added.
Proffering solution to the problem, Capt. Dele Ore, a former President of the Aviation Round Table (ART), advised the Federal Government to work towards the local production of aviation fuel.
He stressed that the government should ensure that the country’s refineries started producing aviation fuel, saying that this would put an end to its importation.
Ore said that Jet A1 fuel shared similar characteristics with kerosene, adding that the fuel could be refined locally when the full production capacities of the refineries had been restored.
He said apart from ending the scarcity of aviation fuel in the country, Nigeria would be able to export the fuel to other countries in the West African sub-region and generate more revenue through such ventures.
On his part, the President of ART, Mr Gbenga Olowo, called for the total deregulation of the petroleum sector, adding that the recent removal of petroleum subsidy by the Federal Government was a step in the right direction.
“It is a very good start by the government. Thereafter, market forces will drive fuel prices and not the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA),’’ he said.
Another expert, Mr Sheri Kyari, the Managing Director of Finum Aviation Services, advised the domestic airlines to go into strategic alliances and flight management partnership, as part of efforts to cut down their expenses.
“Strategically for them, they can do code sharing locally. The idea of two airlines carrying less than half load of passengers to a particular place is not ideal.
“They can review their operations and allow their passengers to use one aircraft to get to the same destination,’’ he said.
Kyari said that it would be very easy for domestic airlines to have a clearing house where tickets were sorted out, while monies were transferred to whichever airline carried the passengers.
All in all, analysts insist that concerted efforts should be made to ensure hitch-free and regular supply of aviation fuel in the country so as to alleviate the operational hardships of local airlines as well as their passengers’ sufferings. (NANFeatures)