Local airlines have shutdown scheduled services over massive slump in passenger traffic and inability to cover the cost of operation.
Some of the airlines though cited solidarity with the government’s efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus pandemic; the business is not sustainable with about 30 per cent load factor recorded on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Experts observed that the local industry could hardly be exempted from the chain reaction of coronavirus, especially the global disruption in international travels and attendant closure of Nigerian airports to foreign travellers.
As at midnight Friday, Air Peace operated its last flights, just as the likes of Dana and Aero Contractors have stalled operations a day before. Arik Air has disclosed plans to follow suit tonight.
The Chief Operating Officer of Air Peace, Toyin Olajide, said it was with a great sense of responsibility that they had decided in the best interest of the nation, passengers and workforce, to temporarily suspend scheduled flight until April 20, 2020.
The airline reckoned that passenger traffic had slumped drastically in the last three weeks, as a result of the pandemic, “so it is, therefore, very unwise to continue raking in avoidable costs that the airline could not afford.”
Olajide said: “Continuation of flight operations in the present circumstances we find ourselves as airlines, could lead to the total collapse of any airline. Hence, there is the need to quickly stem the rising financial burden and costs of operations.
“While the suspension is on, we are, however, willing to do special flights both for the government and our people. Normal scheduled flight operations shall resume on April 20, 2020,” she said.
Arik Air will operate till 23:00hrs today. The management of the airline, in a statement, took this decision in order to mitigate the risk of the spread of coronavirus, and hopes to resume services as soon as feasible.
Customers, who have confirmed tickets, were advised to use the tickets when the airline resumes flight operations.
The Chief Executive Officer of Arik Air, Captain Roy Ilegbodu, said such tickets could be modified at no extra charge.
Ilegbodu added that Arik Air would be available to support government emergency, humanitarian and charter flight requests during the period of suspension of air transport operation.
Aero Contractors had earlier stopped scheduled flight services, “in line with the Lagos state government’s prohibition of more than 20-person gathering.”
In the interim, the airline offered its aircraft, both fixed wing and helicopters, to the federal government for airlift of relief materials, medical equipment and personnel in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The CEO of the company, Captain Ado Sanusi, described it as the contribution of the airline to support of government’s fight against the virus and treatment of those already infected.
Sanusi said that the aircraft would, henceforth, be at the disposal of the Presidential Task Force for the Control of Coronavirus in Nigeria, headed by the Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria (SGF), Boss Mustapha.
Similarly, Dana Air on Thursday also stalled operations for the next two weeks, in response to the recent developments on Covid-19, and the need to support efforts of the government to stem further spread.
Media and Communication Manger of the airline, Kingsley Ezenwa, said there had been a huge decline in the passenger figures as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Considering the need to avoid piling unnecessary costs at this difficult time, we had to take this huge decision in the interest of the industry, staff, customers and our nation.
“While we apologise and regret any inconvenience this decision may cause customers on affected flights, we wish to reassure our guests that we will be available on all our channels to ensure seamless updates and communication.”
President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, said the entire industry would lose at least N180 billion, should the crisis and its after-effects last till June.
Bankole added that the shutdown of local airlines was expected, given the restriction of international airlines. With about 50 per cent loss in traffic already, “it is just a matter of time before they shutdown too.”
Bankole, in agreement with the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) advocacy, called on the government to support the industry and save it from collapse.