A number of flights were yesterday and Wednesday cancelled over low patronage on some of the recently opened routes.
Following the early success on the Lagos and Abuja corridors, more airports have resumed operations but without the airlines having flights on the routes.
The Guardian learnt that although Kaduna Airport has resumed, it was yet to receive flights. At least three airlines cancelled their sole flight to Kaduna yesterday, just like on Wednesday, due to low passenger turnout.
The Maiduguri Airport, according to the Federal Government’s reopening plan, was cleared as of last Saturday. It also had its scheduled flights cancelled. The Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, has been having few flight services, but with a very limited number of passengers.
Operators said outside of the Lagos and Abuja routes, operating scheduled flights and at the designated time was a huge struggle.
Flight movements within Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt on Tuesday confirmed the low patronage. For instance, Air Peace flight P47196 to Lagos-Port Harcourt had 10 passengers outbound and 34 on the inbound. Arik Air flight AW3740 on the same route had 28 passengers on the outbound, and 49 for inbound.
Aero Contractors’ NG381 flight on Abuja-Port Harcourt had 28 passengers on outbound and 49 for inbound. Dana Air flight 0341 on Lagos-Port Harcourt had two passengers on outbound and 13 for the return leg.
With load factor (occupied seats per total availability on a flight) ranging between 15 and 50 per cent – depending on airline, route, flight and time – operators are struggling to meet the cost.
An official of one of the airlines attributed the flight’s cancellation to the low passenger traffic.
“We also feel pained cancelling our flights and disappointing our customers. But what choice do we have with less than 20 passengers in a plane that should sit about 150? The return leg had about six booked passengers. Yet, it is the same fuel of about N1 million that the plane will use. Instead of losing more money, airlines are cancelling some of the flights. I hope things will be better and more passengers will come on board,” he said.
Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi, earlier said the airline’s average load factor was between 15 and 30 per cent – a far cry from a commercial aircraft’s breakeven limit.
Sanusi, however, said that “the modest traffic” was expected at the early stages of resumption after three months of COVID-19-induced lockdown.
“We got what we expected. We didn’t expect the airlines to start with 50 per cent load factor. That is how it is all over the world. We only hope that the flying public will still have the confidence to fly with us again,” Sanusi said.
Aviation security consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said the statistics of passenger traffic so far were not encouraging.
Ojikutu said where some flights were carrying 10 to 20 passengers should have forced the stakeholders to make serious rethinking on slot allocation to airlines.
“May I suggest that where airlines are not ready for code-sharing on domestic routes, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), could designate two to a maximum of three different airlines to operate on alternative days.
“If the passenger traffic continues the way it’s been in the last few days, the industry could suffer more recessions than it is already suffering and will lose the confidence of the public and whatever palliative government applies would end up as wastes,” he said.