Local air travel has become problematic as Cancellations and Delays are the Norm

Flight delays and cancellations in local air transport have worsened, much to the discomfort of passengers travelling for either summer or Muslim festivities.

The development, despite an increase in traffic demand at major airports across the country, has forced many travellers to either shelve their trip or resort to risky roads.

The Guardian learnt yesterday that the situation is not unconnected with the limited capacity of local airlines coupled with the poor management of routine schedules.

A visit to the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA) in Ikeja – the main hub of all local airlines – showed flight delays across board, ranging from one to four hours, with many passengers left stranded. The delays cut across Kano, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Owerri, Benin, Kaduna, Asaba, Ilorin and Enugu routes.

A travel agent at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Lagos Airport, Gabriel Akinsanya, said the delays gradually started at the outset of the summer holidays but hit an unbearable peak last week.

“Passengers are not the problem because we have them in volume this time. Our problem is the airline to put them because we no longer can trust any to takeoff in good time. It used to be 15 or 30 minutes delay. Now, you would be lucky to be delayed for only three hours.

“Last Thursday, I processed tickets for 11 passengers on different routes. Before I left the terminal, all of them had sought a refund. Their delays were so frustrating; some later cancelled their flight. I know a family of five that eventually travelled to Asaba by road after two days of delays and cancellations by their airline,” Akinsanya said.

An official at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, also confirmed the situation, blaming the airlines for habitually merging two or three schedules on one flight.

“I think the major problem is that of capacity. Our airlines don’t have planes, so they keep blaming it on operational challenges and bad weather,” he said.

Industry statistics from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) show that a total of 19,323 delays were recorded in the first half of 2018. Local airlines posted 16,880 delays while their foreign counterparts accounted for 2,443 during the period.

A further breakdown shows that an average of three out of four flights were delayed in 2017, indicating that of the 48,319 tally by eight airlines, 30,214 were late and 872 cancelled.

The President of the National Association of Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, said foreign airlines are the beneficiaries of the current traffic upsurge – on account of having Sallah and summer holidays coinciding. “The unusual period” implies huge traffic, but “our airlines are never ready to make the most of such opportunities,” he said.

He continued: “I am not surprised at the spate of delays. They are bound to happen around here. We don’t have sufficient capacity. Even the most active of the airlines does not have good managers that such business requires. The owner means well for the industry but the level of inefficiency and ineptitude among his workers are so shocking. That is why I’m not surprised.”

But according to a sales manager of one of the carriers, it is improper to blame the airlines for everything that goes wrong in the industry. Though airlines have their shortcomings, he said, the problems would continue until the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) attends to infrastructure gaps at most of the airports.

He explained that while weather-related delays are inevitable, more airports with longer hours of operations and night services will help the airlines operate more efficiently and on time.

Frustrated by the delays, the Ikeja branch of the National Association of Seadogs, also known as Pyrates Confraternity, called on the regulatory agencies to check the excesses of airline operators.

A spokesperson of the association, Iheanyi Okonkwo, urged FAAN, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) to enforce sanctions on erring airlines with a view to sanitising the sector.

“Flight delays have become regular narratives at local airports across the country without explanations to passengers who might have incurred financial loss or undergone emotional stress.

“The nation’s leading local operator has become the major culprit as they flagrantly delay or cancel flight schedules. The truth should be told: if airlines are made to compensate passengers for flight delays or cancellations, they will sit up,” said Okonkwo.