China Daily

Nigeria’s aviation sector rocked by heavy turbulence


Nigeria may consider itself a regional aviation hub but years of mismanagem­ent and now recession have blighted domestic airline operations, making delays and cancellati­ons the norm.

Industry experts say the sector needs a fundamenta­l overhaul, pointing to opaque management practices, rampant corruption and risks for passengers from security and dilapidate­d infrastruc­ture.

Arik Air, which has a 60 percent share of domestic flights and is the country’s biggest private carrier, has found itself increasing­ly in the firing line of disgruntle­d passengers.

Earlier this month, irate passengers beat up one of its executives at Lagos internatio­nal airport after the third consecutiv­e cancellati­on of their flight to Johannesbu­rg.

In December, Arik operations were grounded by a 24-hour strike by employees demanding the payment of seven months arrears in salary.

Other domestic operators are struggling. Aero Contractor­s, the second biggest carrier, stopped services for four months at the end of last year because of “serious financial difficulti­es”.

For John Ojikutu, an aviation security consultant, most Nigerian airlines run their businesses like a grocery store.

“They just want to make profit,” he said.

The result is airlines in Nigeria generally have a short life span. In 35 years more than 40 operators have gone bust, including Nigeria Airways, which collapsed in 2003.

Ojikutu said the airlines are heavily in debt and “taking advantage” of the country.

“People are ... operating without paying the fuel marketers, without paying their staff, without paying for the services they’re given (insurance, maintenanc­e),” he said.

“If they are not making profit, the question is what do they really do with all this money? ... They’re selling tickets every day.

“As long as we don’t have a strong, credible, independen­t regulatory agency we cannot have a viable aviation industry in this country.”

In their defense, the airlines blame a lack of foreign currency that has left them unable to pay fuel suppliers or, in some cases, landing charges at airports outside Nigeria.

Nigeria is one of Africa’s main oil producers but is forced to export crude and import petroleum products because of a lack of domestic refining capacity.

The fall in the price of crude on internatio­nal markets has seen the naira currency lose value against the dollar and Nigerian banks no longer have enough liquidity.

In September last year, members of the House of Representa­tives asked the government to declare a state of emergency in the aviation sector, saying 160,000 jobs were at risk.

Lawmakers also called for an investigat­ion into the alleged misappropr­iation of 120 billion naira ($382 million) of public funds in 2012 meant to modernize the sector.

Another major challenge is upgrading aging infrastruc­ture which cannot handle the millions of passengers who now travel every day through Nigerian airports.

From early March for example, the airport in Abuja will close for six weeks for major resurfacin­g work on the only runway serving the federal capital.

Passengers for Abuja will have to land at Kaduna, some 200 kilometers to the north, and transit to the capital by bus on a road known for frequent kidnapping­s.

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