There is a growing agitation for the federal government to declare a state of emergency in the aviation industry, to drastically reduce, if not stop the high mortality rate of indigenous airlines.
Aero Contractors is the oldest airline in Nigeria, established two years after the defunct national carrier, the Nigeria Airways. The airline was established in 1959 and registered in Nigeria in 1960 to provide support for oil companies before venturing into passenger operations. Since inception, the airline has been a household name in the aviation industry.
But on August 31, 2016, Aero Contractors suspended operations and ordered over 1000 workers to proceed on indefinite leave. The chief executive officer of the airline, Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, said the development was to reposition and return it to the part of profitability.
Akinkuotu said the airline had faced grave challenges which impacted negatively on its business in the past six months. According to him, the challenges, which included internal and external environmental factors, made it difficult for them to continue operations. In fact, the airline was left with one aircraft, a situation that was confirmed by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
Another airline, First Nation Airways, equally announced suspension of flights, 24 hours after Aero suspended operations. However, it resumed after two weeks. The airline attributed the temporary suspension on difficulty in raising foreign exchange to carry out maintenance of its aircraft. Few days after, there was confusion in the industry as Arik Air also went off air for hours over insurance- related issues.
Prior to the suspension of operations, Aero, alongside Dana Air, had earlier suspended Accra, Ghana flights amidst difficulty in getting aviation fuel. They cited high cost of the product and foreign exchange challenges.
Experts have continued to express worry over the developments, which they said portended bleak future for the industry in Nigeria. Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, many observers lamented the dwindling fortunes of the aviation industry despite that the fact that the country has the largest air transport market in West Africa, with over 3000 Nigerians leaving the shores of this country for other African countries, Europe and America on a daily basis.
According to a recent statistics of local and international flights released by the NCAA, out of over 35 airlines in operation, only eight were indigenous. The eight Nigerian airlines are Arik Air, Med-View Airline, Aero Contractors, Dana Air, Air Peace, First Nation, Overland, Azma. The statistics thus revealed how the market is dominated by foreign airlines. Few other local carriers like Skypower Express, Max Air and Kabo strive hard to fly with Nigerian flags.
Experts said it was worrisome that Nigeria, which could boast of over 50 indigenous airlines 20 years ago, allowed them to go into extinction.
The defunct airlines are Flash Airline, Kabo Air, Hold Trade Airline, Gas Air, Jambo Express, Chachangi, IRS Airlines, Savannah Airline, Albarka Airline, Intercontinental Airline, Air Mid-West, HAK Air, EAS Airline, Nicon Airways, Virgin Nigeria Airline, Air Nigeria and Falcon Air.
Others are Sosoliso Airline, Zenith Airline, Barnax Airline, Space World International Airline, Dasab Airline, Fresh Airline, Triax Airline, Bell-View, Freedom Airline, Okada Air, Concord Airline (owned by the late Chief MKO Abiola), Associated Airline, Air Taraba (serving Taraba, Borno and Adamawa).
The list also includes United Air Service, Aras Airline Ltd, Nigeria Global, Nigeria Eagle (which commissioned an aircraft but didn’t fly and had to take the aircraft back), Harco Airline, Premier Airline, Al Bashir, Trans-Sahara Airline, ADC, Oriental Airline, Axiom Airline, Forward Air, Slok Air, Das Air and Cargo, among others.
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