At least seven major international carriers are jostling for a pie of the Nigerian market ahead of this year’s summer travels.
The airlines, some of which are making a return to the Nigerian routes since the beginning of the pandemic, have lined up multiple frequencies in and out of Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, beginning from July 12.
The Guardian learnt that the trio of Emirates, Lufthansa, and Air France are also angling for a return in July.
Aviation stakeholders said holidaymakers and summer travellers may be in for competitive fares from the foreign airlines that are pushing for survival via available traffic across popular routes.
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic over a year ago, air travel has been disrupted with grounded airlines recording huge losses. Safety protocols and COVID-19 inoculation appear to be reopening closed borders, but aviation and airlines are far from recovery.
The latest market statistics released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) showed that traffic is still down by 65.4 per cent, compared to April 2019 figures.
Nevertheless, major carriers are making plans to stimulate demands across routes in Nigeria. With over 210 million people, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and the world’s seventh largest. The market reached about 12 million yearly traffic in the pre-pandemic era, out of which five million are international travellers.
Findings showed that about 11 international routes are already bookable for travels beginning from July 12, on airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airways, Lufthansa, Delta, British Airways, Virgin Atlanta and KLM.
A larger share of the traffic is expected from Lagos, Africa’s largest city, which has nearly nine in 10 or 86 per cent of the country’s international seats.
Nigerian flag carrier, Air Peace, is also warming up for the Lagos-Johannesburg route. The airline, however, kept sealed lips on its Dubai services.
Emirates may be Nigeria’s largest long-haul airline in the summer week. Before its diplomatic row with the Nigerian authorities over additional COVID-19 tests for travellers, the airline operated 14-weekly departures services with the B777-300ER.
The fall-out and “temporary” withdrawal about three months ago has left several Nigerian travellers with minimal options in connecting flights, as much as it has also cost the airlines in revenue.
Dubai-based Emirates airline this week posted a $5.5 billion annual loss, its first in more than three decades, after the coronavirus pandemic devastated the aviation industry. The carrier said it received a capital injection of $3.1 billion from its owner, the government of Dubai, to help it survive the crisis.
The Emirates group was “hit hard by the drop in demand for international air travel as countries closed their borders and imposed stringent travel restrictions”, said chairman and chief executive, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
Emirates is, however, planning seven-weekly flights out of Lagos and Abuja on B777-300ER.Qatar Airways, meanwhile, also has 14-weekly flights, of which three continue from Lagos to the Nigerian capital, Abuja, before returning to Doha via Lagos. Delta, meanwhile, serves the U.S. 12-weekly flights.
Findings show that British Airways shall be operating Lagos-London Heathrow; seven-weekly departures on B777-300ER. Delta has Lagos-Atlanta, seven-weekly on A330-200. Delta also has Lagos-New York JFK, four-times a week on A330-200.
Lufthansa has Lagos-Frankfurt six times a week on A330-300. Also, Port Harcourt-Abuja-Frankfurt; seven-times a week on A330-300.
KLM has Lagos-Amsterdam five-times a week on A330-200/-300 aircraft. Qatar Airways: Lagos-Doha; 11-weekly by the B787-8 (terminating in Lagos). Qatar Airways: Abuja-Lagos-Doha; three-weekly; B787-8 (via Lagos in both directions). Virgin Atlantic: Lagos-Heathrow; seven-weekly; A330-300.
Travel expert and Chairman of the Airline Passenger Joint Committee, Bankole Bernard, said “the rush” for Nigeria traffic was in line with the global boom in passenger traffic demand.
Bernard affirmed that traffic has been improving lately. “The truth is that a lot of people are tired of staying at home and traffic is building across the world. We are excited about the development in Nigeria. It is bound to happen. Europe has just opened to travellers that have been vaccinated. That is the way to go.
“In the days ahead, we should expect more demands and supply from the foreign carriers. The local authorities only need to put processes in place. Let there be opportunities to receive COVID-19 vaccines at the airport. Vaccines are good and it is the way to go for anyone travelling overseas. So, we are happy that traffic is growing,” Bernard said.