Aviation crises: Nigerians shun domestic air travel

The crises in the aviation industry have taken a toll on activities at the domestic terminals of the Lagos airport, with airline officials lamenting low patronage in the past few days.

Some airline officials told our correspondent in confidence on Monday, that the passengers seemed to have developed apathy towards air travel, stressing that they might have become scared of flying following recent developments in the industry.

The officials confirmed that some passengers had called in to cancel earlier bookings, while most of the aircraft taking off from both the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 2 and the General Aviation Terminal to various destinations in the country  have had to depart with fewer passengers on board than usual.

Analysts say the development is a setback to the operators because flying with fewer passengers can make the airlines run at a loss.

An official of one of the major carriers told our correspondent that the airline has had to reschedule some of its flights in the past two weeks due to dwindling patronage and in order not to run at a total loss.

The official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the subject, said, “Lately, activities have not been going on as usual; we have noticed a general reduction in patronage. At first, we chalked it up to the fact that the summer is over and people may be travelling less at this period; but further investigations have shown that some customers appear a bit sceptical about air travels for the time being.

“Perhaps, this is as a result of the number of mishaps that have been recorded in the Nigerian airspace in the last few weeks. As a result of this, we have had to adjust our flying times in a few cases to ensure that we are able to accommodate more passengers, while running fewer schedules, this is in an attempt to assist the management to break even.”

On Thursday, October 3, 2013, an Associated Airline plane crashed in Lagos shortly after taking off, killing 15 out of the 20 passengers on board.

Twenty-four hours after, a Kabo Airlines’ Boeing 747-400 plane carrying 512 pilgrims made an emergency landing at the Sokoto airport with deflated tyres and damaged the airport’s Instrument Landing System.

On October 7, 2013, the Federal Government suspended the operations of Dana Airlines once again, citing the need to carry out an operational audit on the carrier.

On Sunday, October 13, an IRS Airlines’ Fokker 100 plane carrying 99 passengers also made an emergency landing at the Kaduna airport after developing hydraulic problems mid air.

A passenger, Mr. Uche Igbokwe, told our correspondent at the MMA2 terminal on Monday, that he had come to see if he could get a refund for a flight he had earlier booked.

He said, “I am a businessman who lives in Lagos, but I shuttle between Abuja and Lagos two or three times every month. I actually booked a ticket for a flight to Abuja towards the end of last month to fly on Wednesday, but the air crashes and near crashes witnessed in recent times have become worrisome to me.

“My family advised me to use the road transport option for the time being, until things are a bit settled in the industry, and I seem to agree with them. So, I have come to see if I can reclaim at least some of my money. I know the road option is some distance, but I will have to manage until things improve in the aviation sector.”

An aide to a principal officer of the National Assembly, who pleaded not to be named, said he had stopped travelling by air to any destination in the country, but was now embarking on his journeys by road because of the “unsafe state of aviation” in the country.

Corroborating this, the Chief Executive Officer, Gadeshire Travels and Tours, Mr. Olugbenga Adebayo, said there had been reduced bookings for local flights by passengers.

He said, “Well, we have noticed that there is this phobia, which our customers did not use to exhibit before. It is not really that most of them do not want to fly again, but they are now being very choosy about the kind of flight they want to get on.

“If they do not see big airline carriers, they will refuse to fly and will rather take the road option. And you know that currently, we have limited carriers with big capacities in the country.

“We believe it may be as a result of all the issues we have been having in the Nigerian airspace lately, and this seems to be the little challenge that we are facing in the local aviation sector for now, but it is not affecting international travels.”

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