Nigerians, who travel by air, have decried the “sudden” upsurge in air fares and urged the Federal Government to intervene to avoid poor patronage that could dwindle the fortunes of the aviation industry.
Airfares shot up by about 100 percent in the last one week, with some airline operators even raising their fares by as much as 120 percent or more.
At Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, the fare from Abuja to Lagos, which was N35,300 (Economy Class), rose to between N70,000 and N75,000.
Business Class travellers were charged between N100,000 and N120,000, depending on the airline.
Our correspondents, who visited other airports across the country, found that the rise in airfares was the same, a situation that forced some passengers to either abort their travel plans or travel by road or rail
Some airline operators have attributed the upsurge in fares to the current exchange rate, and claimed that a dollar that exchanged for N365 in November had gone up to between N480 and N500 in the open market.
Mr Kehinde Ogunyale, Station Manager, Max Air, NAIA, told NAN that the rise in the fare was inevitable if the airlines were to stay afloat.
“If we do not increase the fare, we may be left behind and will not be able to fund operations anymore”.
Ogunyale further said the festive season had also contributed to the fare increase.
“We are in a season when demand usually outweigh capacity. We expect the fares to be forced down in January when there will be a drought of passengers”.
Mr Abdulmalik Jibreel, Station Manager of Aero Contractors, another airline at NAIA, offered the same dollar-to-naira exchange rate coupled with high demand of tickets by passengers as reasons for the upsurge in fares.
“The airlines have no option than to increase the fare to meet the cost of foreign exchange in the market of aircraft parts”.
But, as the airline operators struggle to explain the fare upsurge, the air passengers have decried the “astronomical” rise and expressed fear that the situation would go out of hands if there was no urgent steps to check it.
Some of them, who spoke with NAN in Ibadan, Akure and Ilorin on Sunday, said air travelling might soon become unaffordable by many people, if nothing urgent was done.
Mr Abdulraman Balogun, a civil servant, attributed the high fare on the Ibadan-Abuja route to the monopoly being enjoyed by one airline.
Balogun said the monopoly enjoyed by the firm had inhibited passengers from making choices, and called on the Federal Government to upgrade the Ibadan Airport to an international airport and make it a hub for the South-West zone, aside the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos.
This, he said, would allow bigger planes to ply Ibadan-Lagos route, thus leading to reduction in air fare.
“Other airlines do not patronise Ibadan Airport because of its local status. If it is made an international airport, it will definitely attract other airlines and there will be competition among them and this will force down the air fare”.
Balogun said most passengers were sad at being made to pay through their noses to get to their respective destinations.
Another passenger, Alhaji Issa Ore, Chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Kwara, bemoaned the 100 percent fare hike, especially at Ilorin Airport, describing it as unacceptable.
He said airline operators had been taking advantage of bad roads in some parts of the country, which had forced many people to opt for air travels, to arbitrarily hike their fares.
According to the labour leader, if the roads had been motorable and train services available, most people would have preferred to travel by road.
“The increase in air fare is not a good development. The airline operators are taking advantage of our bad roads to increase air fares arbitrarily. The roads are not motorable; one would have gone by train if the rail transport had fully taken off. We are just helpless”.
An Ilorin-based lawyer, Mr Kamaludeen Issa, said he could not afford the air fare again due to the hike.
“Although I don’t like travelling by road, my financial capacity can no longer withstand the astronomical fees being charged by airlines”.
Issa attributed the development to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic recession currently being experienced in the country and the fall in the value of naira.
Also speaking, Dr Misbaudeen Lawal, a Consultant Pharmacist, said he had to make do with road transportation for now as the hike in air fare had been eating deep, in his pocket.
He urged the Federal Government to intensify efforts to make the rail system work in the country so that it could be an alternative to air transportation that was gradually getting out of reach.
For Mr Bode Adeloye, a business man, it is unfortunate that air fares are increasing at this period when the country is facing security challenges.
He urged the Federal Government to review its policies in order to make the aviation sector more attractive to investors.
Another air traveler, Ayinla Abdulquadri, said inflation and high rate of foreign exchange had been responsible for the hike in air fares.
“Imagine this situation- the Ilorin-Abuja air ticket that we used to buy for between N29,000 and 30,000 is now between N50,000 and N55,000. This is a very serious matter. While the increase in petrol price has resulted in high road transport fare, air transport is also experiencing its own challenges as the operators are running at a loss. Honestly, I don’t know what to say again other than to just advise government to fashion out policies that will favour the aviation sector, especially the local air unit, and prevent it from collapse”.
Residents of Calabar in Cross River have also decried the current hike in airfare by flight operators as the Yuletide period approaches.
One of them, Mr Joseph Bassey, Deputy Speaker, Cross River House of Assembly, at the Margret Ekpo International Airport said the recent hike in airfare was “outrageous”.
Bassey, who lamented that the hike was coming at a time when Nigerians were travelling across the country to celebrate the Christmas season with loved ones, said the development would hinder many families from travelling by air.
According to him, most of the roads across the country are in bad shape, with kidnappers and traffic gridlock making them a particularly bad option.
“Many of us will be happy to travel by road, but the worsening insecurity scares everyone”.
He called on the Federal Government to look inward and dialogue with the air operators with a view to review the air fare downward in order to allow Nigerians travel by air.
“The Ministers of Aviation and Transport should come in speedily and look into this. Government should be interested in why the fare has gone up. If possible, the Federal Government should offer waivers to these airline operators to help them reduce the burden on the common man. If the Federal Government fails to intervene, most people will stay in their locations without travelling because the amount involved is outrageous”.
A passenger, Dr Benjamin Edet, who disclosed it cost him N50,000 to travel to Abuja on Ibom Air on December 10, said that the amount was more than double the N24,000 the flight ticket had always cost.
Edet lamented that the hike was coming at a time people had lost jobs, businesses and other valuables to COVID-19 and #EndSARS protest.
Some passengers at the Danbaba Suntai Airport in Jalingo, Taraba, have also bemoaned the increase in fare of flights.
Some of them, who spoke, called on the Federal government to regulate the pricing component of aviation industry.
Alhaji Abdulmalik Mohammed, one of the passengers, who traveled from Abuja to Jalingo aboard Overland Air, complained of “a sharp increase in the fare”.
Mohammed said he paid N53,000 on return from Abuja on Sunday, instead of the N38,000 he paid when he boarded from Jalingo to Abuja on Tuesday.
He said he was suspecting the effect of COVID-19 as operators were out to recover their losses.
He also agreed that the weak Naira against the dollar was another factor that led to the hike in aviation fares, urging the Federal Government to intervene with a view to stabilising the fares of air transportation.
Air passengers in Jos have also deried the sudden hike in air fares in the country.
Some of them said that the hike in air fare was “outrageous”.
Mr Abubakar Ballo, a member of the Plateau House of Assembly, particularly lamented the huge hike in air fare from Jos to Lagos.
“Yes, we know that the COVID-19 protocol that prescribes social distancing in the aircrafts has limited the number of passengers an aircraft can carry at a time, but this increase did not take the nation’s economic realities into consideration. Before now, I usually board Arik Air to Lagos at between N40,000 to N60,000, depending on the time I book. But it is now N116,000, a 100 percent rise. This simply means an average Nigerian can’t afford to fly again”.
Similarly, Mr Jacob Choji, a development worker, also described the hike in airfare as “anti-masses”.
He attributed the development to the increase in the pump price of petrol, which included aviation fuel, without considering the effect on poor Nigerians.
“Part of the issue is the hike on price of aviation fuel. It is natural that when you hike the price of fuel, the ripple effect is enormous. The hike in airfare is one of such ripple effects”.
But Dr Abdul Yunusa, President, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), has explained that multiple taxation and unstable foreign exchange have resulted to the unprecedented surge in air fares across the country.
Yunusa also spoke of the delays associated with the clearance of aero tools and other goods by the Nigerian Customs Service, in spite of the Presidential order exempting airline operators from duties.
“Recently, we met with the Senate President and informed him of the situation regarding the double taxation and also the issue of Customs. We held a similar meeting with the House of Representatives committee on finance to brief members on the issue. We also met the finance minister where she confirmed the Presidential duty-free order” .
A cross section of air passengers in Kano, while urging the Presidency to act quickly on the demands by AON, have equally decried the hike in the airfare, and accused the airline operators of explotation.
Malam Mustapha Muhammad, a passenger, said the sudden surge in air ticket was disheartening, adding that the trend had exposed passengers to hardship.
Muhammad said the situation had forced him to suspend travelling by air as he could not afford the exorbitant air fares.
“With security challenges in parts of the country, many people now avoid roads and prefer to travel by air for businesses and other activities. But managers of micro and small enterprises cannot afford N60,000 and N80,000 for a single trip to other parts of the country. The hikes in air fares will affect prices of good and services”.
Mr Shuaibu Umar, another passenger, said he paid N126,000 return ticket from Abuja – Kano, about a 100 percent increase for a journey that used to cost N66,000.
Mrs Tope Ayobolu, another passenger, said with the current economic hardship, the hike in air fare was not a good development.
“Before air ticket fares were increased, my son and I used to pay N97,000 from Yola to Lagos. But with the current situation, we now pay N216,000. This is just unbelievable”.
But, in spite of the increase in the cost of air tickets, Benin Airport has continued to witness a rise in the number of people seeking to fly.
A correspondent, who visited the airport, observed that it was a beehive of activities with many landing, or anxious to fly.
Some of the passengers, who spoke however, said they were not happy with the upsurge in air fares, especially in view of current economic challenges.
One of them, Mr Paul Owie, said it would cost him a fortune to travel since he is a regular flier because of the nature of his business.
“Before last year, I usually commute between Abuja and Benin on a regular basis by road, but the bitter experience I had forced me to change my mind from road journeys. It is not going to be easy to cope with this new increase, but it is still better than going by road”.
Like Owie, another regular flier, Musibau Afolabi, described the increase as “beyond the reach of most regular flying Nigerians”.
Afolabi opined that the airlines took advantage of the fact that most Nigerians now prefer flying than travelling by road because of insecurity.
“We have all been complaining about increase in the prices of goods and services, this increase will further worsen the situation. You don’t expect a businessman, who spends so much in travelling to transact business, not to reflect this on his product”.