Nigeria: Cash Squeeze, High Fares Lower Domestic Passenger Traffic At Nigerian Airports

Domestic air travel is recording low passenger traffic at the beginning of the second half of the year when upswing in air travel is expected, THISDAY has learnt.

Investigations revealed that in the last two months passenger traffic has been surprisingly low and it is attributed to general cash squeeze, hike in airfares and low purchasing power of many Nigerians.

THISDAY also gathered that while many Nigerians would prefer to travel by air instead of by road due to insecurity, the high airfares remain a disincentive because many Nigerians cannot afford the high fares.

A protocol officer at the domestic terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos who arranges tickets for corporate and individual travellers, told THISDAY that passenger turnout has become drastically low, although there was upswing during the movement for Salah, but relatively it has remained low.

According to him, passenger traffic remained low in the last two months when compared to the same period in the previous years, even in 2021 after the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020 and the attendant economic devastation.

“I think high fares is the major cause. People are still travelling but it is not like before. Most of the airlines are charging high fares, beginning from about N50, 000, N56, 000 to N78, 000 to N80, 000; especially those who buy last minute tickets. It can even be higher. And all the airlines are involved. They said that was the only way they could survive, “he said.

Travel expert, Ambassador Ikechi Uko, confirmed there had been discernible cash squeeze, which is affecting people’s purchasing power, adding that this is not only affecting air travel but also the economy, and that there is low patronage of those offering essential products like foods, services and others.

“I watched sellers of ram and cattle during Salah being interviewed on television and they were full of lamentation. Some said they sold but the market is not as it used to be. I don’t know whether it has to do with summer; people purchasing dollars that gave rise to the cash squeeze.

“But this is the time airlines can review their aircraft utilisation. They should deploy their low capacity aircraft and get them filled up. But unfortunately they are still using the big planes, which have high cost of operation that eats deeply into their pockets. The airlines that leased aircraft must pay for the lease. Also, the constant rainfall and high fares have exacerbated the situation. So there is general downturn in the economy. But the hotels are doing well. The feedback indicates that people who didn’t travel overseas have chosen to stay in hotels and the hotels in Lagos and Abuja are doing good business,” Uko said.

But a senior official of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) in Abuja, told THISDAY in a telephone interview that traffic has been low in the last few days but was high during Salah holiday and noted that Nigerians who travelled for the holiday were not back, hence the low traffic.

“During festivities, traffic is usually high and low. It is high when people are going on holidays and low after they have travelled and passenger turnout will be low until the end of the festivities. I don’t think the downturn in the economy has reduced the number of people that travel,” he said.

But this view is contrary to what an official of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) told THISDAY. According to the official, “there is low passenger traffic and airlines are finding it increasingly difficult to operate due to high cost of aviation fuel and high cost of aircraft servicing. The scarcity of forex and the depreciation of the naira are forcing airlines to just manage to survive, hoping that this period of depressed economy will also pass.”

The Managing Director of Flight and Logistics Solutions Limited, Amos Akpan, told THISDAY that not many Nigerians could afford to buy ticket at N50, 000 for one way and N110, 000 for return, observing that the earning of Nigerian working class does not support such high fares and that even corporate organsiations allow travel for their personnel when it is very essential and when there could not be virtual interface.

“If your company does not send you on a job you cannot travel by air. The earning of a Nigerian worker cannot support such high fares, but conversely, the airlines cannot survive without the high fares. Any airline that sells ticket for anything less than N50, 000 is making economic mistake,” he said.

However, the spokesman of one of the major Nigerian airlines told THISDAY that Nigerians have got used to the increased airfares, but the low patronage is not unconnected to the economic situation in the country now.

He also stated that the popular triangular routes of Lagos-Abuja-Port Harcourt still maintain high load factor, but admitted that other destinations could be recording low passenger traffic and added that, maybe, due to security concerns on the Ore-Benin expressway, many Nigerians travelling to Benin do so by air; so Benin records high passenger traffic.

The airline spokesman also stated that there is drastic reduction in leisure travel; that people travel now mainly for business.

“Nigerians have gotten used to high fares charged by airlines which is caused by the cost of aviation fuel. Yes, there is low passenger traffic but there is still high load factor in the popular Lagos-Abuja-Port Harcourt routes. There could be low passenger turnout on other routes. Insecurity has made many to shun the roads. Perhaps that is the reason why there is high patronage on the Lagos-Benin route because of the security fears on the Ore-Benin highway. I don’t think there is still leisure travel. Majority of the people who travel by air, do so for business,” he said.

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