Dangers of toying with domestic airlines in 2021

AS year 2020 draws to an end, there are so many signs that are already signaling how the coming year will impact lives and businesses.

With focus today on the country’s aviation sector like other sectors of the economy, fear of uncertainty is permeating all around for obvious reasons. That shows all is not well with the sector.

As anxious as stakeholders are to keep the outgoing year in the dustbin of history being a year that inflicted pains and agonies on humans, businesses and economies in general with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, without being pessimistic, there may be little or no difference in the coming year should government fail to change its policy on domestic airline business.

For sure, only God knows how long it will take businesses to start picking up not to talk of the ones that have totally collapsed with thousands of workers sent home by their employers who could no longer bear the brunt of the impact of the pandemic.

In Nigeria, mostly hit by the pandemic are the domestic airline operators whose aircraft were kept on ground for six months without earning a dime even as they were still forced to attend to other logistics to keep the aircraft in order and still retain some workers.

The airlines though back in operations, it is no longer business as usual for them as they grapple with the economic hardship that has befallen them with the effect of the pandemic.

As the whole world is gearing up to celebrate the coming Yuletide with people using the occasion to travel to celebrate with their loved ones and hoping for a better year ahead, Nigerians are not left out of this annual ritual, but realizing this dream this time may be a tall dream as their cherished means of connecting with their loved ones, air transport, may have been shattered with the latest sharp increase in air fares on all routes.

Suddenly a one hour flight from Lagos to Abuja that used to attract between N22,000 and N30,000 depending on the airline has been increased to N107,000. Maiduguri to Lagos that used to attract between N45,000 and N55,000 has now skyrocketed to N1000 while Kano to Lagos now sells for N85,000.

As sad as the development is, increasing fares at this critical period, according to the operators, was a tough decision they needed to take to remain in business to survive the ridiculous and high rate of dollar exchange and other foreign currencies which have rendered the Naira less valuable.

In other words, since all airline transactions are done in dollars, the domestic carriers which get paid in Naira but pay through their throat in dollars to maintain their planes and buy spare parts, have to take their destiny in their own hands for their huge investments not to go down the drain. The truth must be told that the airlines are just to increase fares.

There is no doubt that it is the traveling public that will definitely suffer this increase but the question again is; how many Nigerians can afford to pay these new regimes of fares? For those who cannot afford the fares, the only option left is to hit the roads which unfortunately have become a dangerous option in view of the high security risks.

Sadly, while all these are happening with the airlines gasping for breath, the government that should be concerned is busy diverting energy to less important ventures like floating of a new national carrier and airport concession.

It’s so horrible that while the government has basically failed to give the desired priority needed to the domestic airline business, the few domestic airlines are gradually collapsing with no air of probability that the country can boast of more than two or three in the coming year because of the myriad of challenges.

Among the questions calling for answers are: how much will the government achieve with the floating of a national carrier; will the national carrier, if it eventually becomes a reality, be able to take care of the thousands of Nigerian travelers; is the non willingness of the government to assist the domestic airlines and make the environment more comfortable for them a ploy to kill them to pave the way for the national carrier and does the government not realize that the total collapse of the domestic airlines will surely make life difficult for the traveling public and further endanger the lives of its citizens?

As year 2021 draws nearer, there is an urgent need for the government to first stabilize the domestic airline operations which will greatly determine the survival of the entire sector in the new year. Without a strong domestic airline scene, the so called concession and floating of a national carrier will only be a wastage as the national carrier cannot perform the functions the seven domestic carriers are presently performing.

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