By Lawani Mikairu
IN spite of the recent sigh of relief by domestic airline operators that passengers traffic is gradually increasing after the lull arising from the COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions, passengers are still experiencing flight delays and cancellations.
Many have wondered why the airlines are not taking advantage of the rise in passengers traffic to increase flight frequency and make more money to mitigate the losses they suffered during the COVID-19 lockdown world wide.
However, a critical look at the sector will reveal that airline operators are still battling with situations beyond their immediate control. They want to take advantage of the current security situation in the country which has made air travel the safest means of travel. But there are still problems confronting them.
Some of these problems include the COVID-19 pandemic which is developing new strains in some countries. This has made some of these countries not to fully lift restrictions on movements and travels. These countries with second wave of COVID-19 have aircraft maintenance facilities where some domestic airline operators took their aircraft for routine mandatory maintenance before restrictions and lockdown were imposed to curtail the pandemic.
Most of these aircraft are currently trapped in these facilities because of slow pace of work as the workforce of these facilities were drastically reduce during the lockdown. The maintenance facilities are also waiting for full lifting of restrictions on travels around the world to enable businesses to pick up, especially with private jet owners clients, before recalling their redundant staff.
Scarcity of forex
Also, difficulty in accessing forex needed by some domestic airlines to carry out their routine maintenance which are mostly done outside the country due to absence of standard Maintenance Repair Organisations, MRO, in the country, is another factor that has contributed to flight delays and cancellations.
Only new airlines which recently joined the Nigerian domestic aviation sector are currently not reeling from the scarcity of forex as their planes are not due for maintenance yet. They will be due in the next 18 months when they will be expected to go for mandatory checks of their aircraft.
The international recommended standard and practice is that aircraft must be taken for checks and maintenance at regular interval, whether or not they fly or are parked at the apron at the airports. So, airlines cannot escape this mandatory requirement to remain in operation.
Therefore, some of the domestic airlines currently do not have the required planes to carry out maximum flight operations. The planes are not on ground for flight operations. Some of these aircraft are parked waiting to be flown out for maintenance or those already out are trapped outside in maintenance facilities around the world. Speaking with Vanguard on how mandatory maintenance and COVID-19 lockdown have affected airlines and their operations, former Director General, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, and current Rector, International Civil Aviation College, Ilorin, Bennedit Adeyinleka said the pandemic was bound to affect the operations of civil aviation for a long time.
He also said there was no way Nigeria could have been insulated from the global effect of the pandemic on civil aviation, adding that the recovery process for the civil aviation will be gradual. According to him: “Nigerian domestic airlines were bound to face the fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their flight operations were definitely going to be affected with the restrictions on movements by countries round the world.
“With the lifting of COVID-19 travel restrictions, flight operations could not have attained full peak. It was bound to be gradual because aircraft that are needed for operations will be deployed gradually. Remember some of these aircraft were parked during the lockdown and they are going to be serviced before they commence flights again. Some of them were already due for mandatory maintenance before and during the lockdown.