An Uninhabited Space

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After more than five decades of commercial airline operations in Nigeria, and with a population of about 160 million people to service, there is still no low-cost carrier flying both the nation’s local and international airspace. Mohammed Abdullahi explains why.

According to the experts canvassed for this piece, the absence of low-cost carriers in Nigeria is a result of the lack of an enabling environment, which is the barrier to entry for lower and middle income groups gaining access to air travel.

Double taxation by government regulatory agencies at the airports in Nigeria, airlines providing self-security, the high cost of operations, and the high cost of aviation fuel, are just some of the reasons pin-pointed for the lack of the emergence of low-cost carriers in the country.

However, there is one airline in Nigeria that would like to change that. Aero Contractors has been in operation for over 50 years, flying extensively across Nigeria, servicing Lagos, Abuja, Calabar, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Warri, Uyo and Kano. It currently also flies to Accra in Ghana, and to neighbouring country Benin. Aero also operates air charter and third party aircraft operations, largely in support of Nigeria’s extensive oil and gas industry.

The airline has also been progressive in attempting to offer more affordable fares. In 2010, I flew Aero Economy Class from Lagos to Abuja and paid N6,000 (about $40) for a return ticket, after booking online a week before the trip. Today, the cost of that same ticket will set you back N24,000 (about $150), yet this is still the cheapest fare amongst all the domestic airlines on the Lagos-Abuja route. In fact, Aero’s competitors are charging in the region of double that price, for a flight that takes 75 minutes to complete.

Captain James Akinlawon George, MD/CEO of Aero Contractors said the airline strategy had been to provide a low-fare carrier service, whilst still offering a quality service to their passengers.

“We are not a low-fare carrier for the sake of being a low-fare carrier, but because it works for us,” he said. “We are recognised as the number one airline in terms of safety, that is what we have stood for from day one, and that is why Aero Contractors is recognised anywhere in Nigeria. We also have EMO – a maintenance operator’s certificate, which makes us the only airline that is qualified to do maintenance work for other Nigerian airlines.”

Aero have also beefed up their offering, and together with the lower fares, they also offer business travellers other unique services, such as home pick-up and drop-off.

But George cautions those Nigerian entrepreneurs who are looking at getting into the low-cost carrier space, citing the reasons already listed. Further to that, in his opinion, the Nigerian economy is hostile to such an industry. In a country where government taxes are high, from importation of aircraft, daily operations and cost of fuel, even the aviation fuel market has been deregulated. There just doesn’t seem to be a way that a low-cost carrier could prosper.

Sadly, Nigerian consumers and frequent African travellers are the ones to lose out, and it’s going to have to take a big effort and significant change from the Nigerian government, in terms of policy, for the status quo to alter. Nigerian consumers will pray for that day.

 

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