Three weeks after domestic airlines cancelled flights for few days due to lack of Jet A1, known as aviation fuel, a worse scenario seems to be in the offing as many of the operators cancelled their flights Saturday and have stopped selling tickets due to uncertainty of future fuel supply.
It started on Monday when the Chairman of Air Peace, a new domestic carrier, Allen Onyema, warned of the impending crisis as it became difficult to source Jet A1, which constitutes about 40 per cent of airlines’ operational expenses.
By yesterday Arik Air, Aero Contractors, Med View, Air Peace and other airlines had cut down their operations, cancelling most of their flights because of the non-availability of aviation fuel.
The failure of the oil marketers to airlift petroleum products due to government’s inability to pay the huge subsidy debts, amounting to several billions of naira, prompted the National Union of National Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and National Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PEGASSAN) to embark on strike, demanding payment for their services.
On Saturday Nigeria’s biggest operator, Arik Air cancelled all their domestic flights as their Lagos to London flight had to go through Kano to fuel before flying to London because the airline could not source about 120,000 litres needed for the aircraft in Lagos.
Aero Contractors cancelled its flights, but was able to operate Asaba, Warri and Benin and on Friday it delayed its Calabar to Lagos flights till Saturday as the airline was unable to source fuel in time, so when it landed in Calabar, Friday, it could not get back to Lagos that evening because the airport is on visual flight rule, so there is no night operation due to lack of airfield lighting.
Also on Saturday, First Nation Airways was only able to operate Lagos Abuja flight; Medview operated Lagos to Abuja and Abuja to Yola flights and cancelled the rest of their flights.
There was no hope that the airlines would operate any flights today and by Monday indications show that nation’s economy will be grounded to a halt as there would be no domestic flight operations.
Aero in a statement said, “Due to the general scarcity of aviation fuel (Jet A1) in the country, the airline will not be able to operate over 80 per cent of her domestic flights as scheduled.
In the last few weeks, the supply of aviation fuel has been very irregular, which has compelled the airline to cancel some flights. We apologise to our esteemed customers for the inconvenience they may have been experiencing due to flight delays and cancellations caused by the scarcity of aviation fuel.
“We urge our customers to always check our website at www.flyaero.com or contact the call centre agent on 016284140 to affirm if their scheduled flight will operate. Aero regrets any inconvenience the changes will cause. All measures are being made to ameliorate the situation and revert to her regular flight schedule. We hope that the situation improves very soon.”
The domestic carriers need over 2.5 million litres of aviation fuel every day for full flight operation but by Friday all the tank farms at the airport in Lagos seemed drained and trucking from the Apapa depot had since stopped since NUPENG embarked on industrial action.
On the international routes, foreign carriers have been delaying flights for up to 48 hours and by Thursday, many of the airlines arrived Nigeria with fuel and only top up on arrival and it was while waiting to top up fuel that the flights are delayed.
On Thursday, Virgin Atlantic had to fly to Ghana to refuel before airlifting its Nigerian flights to London and many of the airlines with large body aircraft arrive Nigeria fully laden with return and endurance fuel, knowing that they would not be able to refuel in Nigeria.
“Many of the foreign airlines only need to top up their tank with about 45,000 to 50, 000 litres of fuel; they come here fully loaded but just needed top up. British Airways which operates Boeing 747 aircraft which can fly non-stop for 14 hours come here with all the fuel it needs, but then it has to face the challenge of take-off weight; that is why they may come with a little less and then top up in Nigeria,” explained an insider.
If the scarcity continues this week, the nation’s economy will be paralysed as travel by air and by land will become impossible.