Scarcity of foreign exchange by airlines, especially at this COVID-19 period, has continued to pose serious challenges to the carriers.
Managing Director of Arik Air, Capt. Roy Ilegbodu, said in Lagos at the weekend that the sharp drop in traffic occasioned by COVID-19 outbreak has drastically affected the fortunes of airlines. He also said exchange rate had gone up significantly by approximately 40 per cent since COVID struck.
According to him, the sharp drop in passenger traffic is seriously affecting virtually all the airlines as a result of COVID- 19, stressing that many of the airlines have cut down their fleet size as the carriers plan to recover from the scourge. He said: “Passengers are not really travelling as much as before. We’ve seen that, however, some airlines may not notice it now because capacity has also dwindled.
What I mean by that is that, the airlines have suffered so much that the fleet sizes have gone down.” He explained that the industry itself was tied to supplies such as spare parts and insurance, among others from outsde Nigeria, adding that to support an aircraft with spare parts, one needs all sorts coming in.
The airline chief noted that significant sum of money was spent on maintenance, adding that the airplane, on a daily basis, must be maintained, insisting that aircraft maintenance cannot be compromised.
His words: “The tyres on an airplane; some people do not realise how much we change them. You can’t use aircraft tyres the same way you use your car tyres till they get burst. You have to change them regularly, whether they look old or not. So, you see that happening on daily basis because some of the rotables.”
He pleaded with the Federal Government to come to the aid of the airlines to access foreign exchange at a good rate and help to resolve the difficulty associated with foreign exchange, which, to him, is a major setback.
Speaking on the status of planned new airline christened NG Eagle and whether or not Arik Air would transmute into the new carrier, he clarified that the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON)-owned airline, NG Eagle, was entirely a different entity from Arik Air as there is no connection between both airlines.
Ilegbodu explained that the fact that a couple of planes with Arik aircraft livery were painted to the NG Eagle colours was because the assets were mortgaged for a loan and now the owners have taken possession of their assets.
According to him, the owners simply recovered their assets. He stated: “Well, in reality, there is no connection between the two.
That said, you are aware that NG Eagle is solely owned by AMCON and of course you know that Arik Air itself is in receivership and the receivership was instituted by AMCON, which is based on the fact that Arik owes significant sums of money to AMCON. So if you can infer from there that’s the relationship.”
Speaking on the absence of air field lighting on Runway 18 Left, Ilegbodu explained that it had added significantly to all airlines’ costs, including Arik Air, stressing that apart from jet fuel burning, which adds extra cost on the airline, there is the wear and tear factor that increases the cycle.
He said: “There would be significant sums of savings; I can’t even begin to quantify. It is actually a huge drain on not just Arik but all the other operators that have to do night operations.
That can be resolved by installing the Runway lights at the local runway but yes huge sums of money can be saved. An airplane cycle starts when you start the engine and you are burning fuel, the wear and tear on the engine.
So for every cycle, it doesn’t matter if that cycle is from here to Benin or from here to London or from here to the U.S., it is one cycle. So it costs money and that cost is the same whether it is London or Dubai, it is one cycle, it is one cycle.”