NIGERIA’S aviation ministry is stepping up plans to register four new domestic airlines next year in a desperate bid to increase competition across the sector and improve the quality of customer service.
Keen to ensure that there are more players in the market, the ministry has asked the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority to register airlines that meet outlined conditions. Aviation minister Stella Oduah is well aware of the fact that apart from delays, poor safety and inadequate service, Nigerian air passengers pay exorbitant fares when travelling locally.
Since Dana Air was grounded in June and First Nation Airways stopped operating, air fares across Nigeria have skyrocketed and customers sometimes have to bribe their way to get flight seats, especially in Abuja where touts hold sway and at peak periods fares could rise as high as N40,000 for a one-hour flight. Diasporans travelling from the UK, who need to catch connecting flights to other parts of Nigeria, are generally a soft target and get hit hard.
Although it is expected that Dana Air will resume operations by the end of the month alongside Med View Airlines, both airlines have few aircraft in their fleet so do not have enough capacity to reduce fares. At the moment air transport in Nigeria is the costliest in any peaceful country in the world.
One industry insider said that if government carries this plan out it would encourage the development of the domestic market and sharpen competition among the domestic carriers and of course, knock down fares. He added that Nigeria is losing the West and Central African market to Asky Airlines and Kenya Airways which now operate as local airlines across both regions.
According to the industry spokesman: “Over the last few months, the situation has been dramatic due to the grounding of Air Nigeria and Dana Air and when Arik stopped operation for three days, Aero’s lack of capacity led to the suffering of passengers. In the domestic market Arik and Aero can be described as a duopoly because of their relatively higher capacity.”
By next year the aviation ministry plans to offer single digit long terms loans to airlines to assist them in acquiring new aircraft. Plans have been concluded to assist the operators, including those that have temporarily stopped services, to acquire modern aircraft from manufacturers and lessors.