The little hope of recovery for airlines from COVID-19 crisis may have been lost with the recent unrest that rocked the nation, WOLE SHADARE writes
The quick recovery of Nigerian carriers from the COVID-19 outbreak was herculean. The nearly one week suspension of flight services by domestic airlines due to #Endsars protests and attendant violence that rocked most parts of the country may have set the carriers’ further backward. While the crisis degenerated last week Monday, airlines like Arik, Dana, Air Peace, Azman, Aero, Overland, Max Air and Ibom Air quickly suspended operations. International airlines also joined the fray by announcing flight suspension to Lagos and Abuja except for British Airways, which continued its operations into the two cities of Abuja and Lagos.
United States owned airline, Delta, in its advisory, said flight DL248 ATLLOS for October 19, 2020 scheduled to arrive LOS on Tuesday Oct 20, 2020 would not operate due to the 24-hour curfew imposed by the Lagos State Government. According to the airline, “consequently, Flight DL249 LOSATL scheduled to operate today October 20, 2020 has also been canceled. Further details on flight operations will be duly communicated. We truly regret any inconvenience.” British Airways on the other hand informed its trade partners that its flights in and out of Nigeria would operate as scheduled, saying that they would informof changes if any. Africa World Airlines (AWA) said due to “curfew in Lagos, tonight, we will cancel flights for October 20 and October 21, 2020.” The carrier stated that it would be monitoring the situation and will be updating everyone. “We regret to inform you that KQ533 scheduled to depart 21/Oct/2020 from LOS – NBO has been canceled due to the 24Hrs curfew imposed by the Lagos State Government,” it stated. Kenya Airways in a statement it was planning to send out another communication with regards re-protection and flight operations for the affected guests as soon as they have an update. The airline apologised for any inconveniences suffered by their clients and hoped for speedy resolution of the crisis. It noted: “We implore you to communicate with your guests as soon as you can. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”
The future really looks bleak for Nigerian airlines. They are yet to get the much talked about bailout. That does not look to be on the horizon any more as government is battling so many problems coupled with dwindling revenue. They have waited for so long but help seems not to be coming their way. They have weathered the storm posed by COVID-19. They have gradually left the pity party stage to do it themselves but for how long will they continue without government’s support for bailout or palliative? This narrative sums up Nigerian airlines’ precarious situation. They are not alone in this.
Lack of support
Many bigger airlines have gotten their country’s backing by releasing huge amount of money to keep the carriers in operations and to save millions of jobs that are threatened by the pandemic that grounded economic life for more than five months. IATA urged African governments to ensure urgently needed financial relief pledged for air transport and tourism reaches distressed businesses. It also called for the implementation the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Take-Off guidance to assist a safe restart to aviation. As a consequence of the pandemic and associated restrictions, African airlines are forecast to lose $2 billion in 2020. Without urgent financial relief, the industry is at risk of collapse, putting about 3.3 million jobs and $33 billion in African GPD in jeopardy. To date, the governments of Sub-Saharan Africa Rwanda, Senegal, Côte D’Ivoire and Burkina Faso have pledged a total of $311 million in direct financial support for air transport. A further $30 billion has been promised for air transport and tourism by a variety of governments and institutions throughout the region. However, much of the relief is yet to reach those in need due to bureaucracy and complex processes. “Over $30 billion in financial support has been pledged to aviation and tourism in Africa. Some of this money has been allocated by governments, but far too little of it has reached its intended recipients,” said Muhammad Albakri, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East.
Carriers under threat
A source told New Telegraph that this further setback may signpost the end for some airlines that are already facing difficult times occasioned by low patronage, apathy to air travel long after the Federal Government lifted restrictions on both domestic and international air travel. The economy is yet to pick up. Most airlines are still operating at less than 50 per cent of their load factor as passenger traffic keeps dropping or at best at very low.
The clearing house for over 290 global airlines said it now expected full-year 2020 passenger numbers in Africa (to/from/within) to reach only 30 per cent of 2019 levels, down significantly from the 45 per cent that was projected in July. In absolute numbers, the region is expected to see around 45 million travelers in 2020 compared to the 155 million in 2019, stressing that in 2021, demand is expected to strengthen to 45 per cent of 2019 levels to reach close to 70 million travelers to/from/within the region. Forward bookings for air travel in the fourth quarter show that the recovery continues to falter. While domestic travel is picking up across Africa as countries re-open their borders, international travel remains heavily constrained as major markets including the EU remain closed to citizens of African nations. Currently, residents from only two African countries– Rwanda and Tunisia – are permitted to enter EU borders. “The further fall in passenger traffic in 2020 is more bad news for the aviation industry in Africa. A few months ago, we thought that demand reaching 45 per cent across the continent in 2020 compared to 2019 was as grim as it could get. “But with international travel remaining virtually non-existent and a slower than expected pick up in domestic travel, we have revised our expectations downward to 30 per cent,” said Albakri.
Nigerian airlines are bleeding and in the woods. There seems to be little survival hope for them but all is not doom and gloom as they could wave the magic wand that could see them swim the tide to survival. This cannot be done without a lifeline of funding to keep the sector alive, and a roadmap to restart aviation safely as soon as possible. The economic devastation of COVID-19 could take them back a decade or more. Aviation supports livelihoods, trade, education, good health and wellbeing, and quality education.