…seek urgent attention to roads, railway
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.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the air fares shot up by about 100 per cent in the last one week, with some airline operators even raising their fares by as much as 120 per cent 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.
The rise in airfares across the airports 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.
Station Manager, Max Air in Abuja, Mr. Kehinde Ogunyale, said 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,” he explained. Ogunyale further said that the festive season had also contributed to the fare increase.
“We are in a season when demand usually outweighs capacity. We expect the fares to be forced down in January when there will be a drought of passengers,” he said. Station Manager of Aero Contractors in Abuja, Mr. Abdulmalik Jibreel, 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,” he said.
But, as the airline operators struggle to explain the fare upsurge, the air passengers have decried the “astronomical” rise and expressed the 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 yesterday, said that 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 that 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. Another passenger, Alhaji Issa Ore, Chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Kwara, bemoaned the 100 per cent fare hike, especially at Ilorin Airport, describing it as unacceptable. “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,” he said. 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, told NAN at the Margret Ekpo International Airport that 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 that the development would hinder many families from travelling by air. According to him, most of the roads across the country are in a bad shape, with kidnappers and gridlock making them a particularly bad option. “Many of us will be happy to travel by road, but the worsening insecurity scares everyone. “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,”
the Deputy Speaker said. A passenger, Dr. Benjamin Edet, who said that 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 #End- SARS protests.
Some passengers at the Danbaba Suntai Airport in Jalingo, Taraba, have also bemoaned the increase in fare of flights. Alhaji Abdulmalik Mohammed, one of the passengers who travelled from Abuja to Jalingo aboard Overland Air, complained of “a sharp increase in the fare”.
Mohammed said that he paid N53,000 on return from Abuja yesterday, instead of the N38,000 he paid when he boarded from Jalingo to Abuja on Tuesday. Air passengers in Jos have also decried the hike in air fares in the country.
Mr. Abubakar Ballo, a member of the Plateau of Assembly, particularly lamented the huge hike in air fare from Jos to Lagos. “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 per cent rise. This simply means an average Nigerian can’t afford to fly again,” he said.
Similarly, Mr. Jacob Choji, a development worker, also described the hike in airfare as “anti-masses”. A cross section of air passengers in Kano equally decried the hike in the airfare, and accused the airline operators of exploitation.
Malam Mustapha Muhammad, a passenger, said that the sudden surge in air ticket was disheartening, adding that the trend had exposed passengers to hardship. Mr. Shuaibu Umar, another passenger, said that he paid N126,000 return ticket from Abuja – Kano, about 100 per cent increase for a journey that used to cost N66,000. Mrs. Tope Ayobolu, another passenger, said that 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,” she said. 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,” Yunusa said.