According to reports, over 40 aircraft belonging to domestic airlines are currently grounded in maintenance facilities abroad and in Nigeria due to a lack of access to foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria to pay the necessary bills.
While over 30 airplanes are stranded overseas, a little over 10 aircraft are grounded in Nigeria due to a lack of forex to acquire some major spare parts from abroad.
Aside from the grounded planes, some operators are unable to acquire new aircraft engines to replace old ones that have completed their cycles due to dollar scarcity.
Airline officials said the development might worsen the current flight disruptions being experienced by passengers caused by a shortage of airplanes.
According to findings, while Air Peace, the largest Nigerian carrier, has about 15 planes stranded abroad, Dana Air, Max Air, Azman Air, Arik Air, and other domestic carriers have over 25 airplanes currently grounded abroad and locally due to a lack of foreign exchange.
Operators are seeking foreign exchange to pay foreign aircraft maintenance facilities and acquire spare parts from abroad for the aircraft undergoing maintenance locally.
The Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, who said last week that the carrier spent over N78 billion on aircraft maintenance last year, disclosed the airline currently has about 15 planes stranded abroad due to a lack of foreign exchange.
Onyema spoke at the Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association held in Abuja.
He said, “Air Peace has about USD 14 million stranded in the Central Bank of Nigeria. It is not hidden. We also have about 15 aircraft stranded abroad. After that, people will say Nigerian airlines lack capacity. They do not lack capacity; what they lack is truthful government support and ease of doing business.
“Do you know the amount this country spends on aircraft maintenance through its airlines? Air Peace alone, in 2022, expended N78 billion on maintenance, and these funds went to foreign countries. How can local investments grow like this?”
The Managing Director of Dana Air, Jacky Hathiramani, said aside from Air Peace, other domestic carriers were battling with the problem of dollar scarcity, saying it was high time the Federal Government intervened to save the domestic airline industry.
He said, “All domestic carriers are having challenges with forex. We have had about four planes looking for forex from CBN for about two years, and it’s about $4 million. It needs to be known that many airlines have currency issues. The CBN needs to help the aviation industry so that airlines can maintain their schedules.”
According to findings by our correspondent, Max Air needs foreign exchange to complete routine maintenance on four planes in its fleet.
An official of the carrier, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, said, “Max Air has at least one aircraft in Turkey; we have others that are meant to go for maintenance but can’t because of currency scarcity. We have seven aircraft but can’t fly all of them because of the currency scarcity challenge. This is not easy at all. For example, the naira goes for over 900 per dollar now. How can an operator address that when the dollar is not even readily available? We’re striving to bring the aircraft outside the country back so that we can have about three aircraft working.”
“Azman has two airplanes in Kaduna while two others are overseas. The forex scarcity is hitting hard on operators. Some of the airplanes are supposed to go to Dakota, but they are still in Nigeria because of the forex issue,” an official who chose to speak under condition of anonymity due to a lack of permission to comment on the matter said.
Commenting on the development, the Chief Executive Officer of Aero Contractors and former Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Captain Ado Sanusi, said the carrier was lucky not to have any aircraft stranded overseas because the company runs a maintenance facility in the country.
“Well, because Aero Contractors owns a maintenance and repair overhaul, we don’t have our planes stuck outside. Now, on the scarcity of foreign exchange, airlines rely on it because almost everything we do is tied to foreign exchange, so if there is a scarcity of dollars, it will definitely affect us too. It will affect ticket prices, and it’ll affect everything that we do. It’s a bit challenging, and I pray that this government can tackle it because it is important that we address it once and for all.”
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Airline Operators of Nigeria and Chairman of United Airlines Nigeria, Prof. Obiora Okonkwo, said there was a need for the CBN to create a special forex window to save the local airline industry.
He said, “Air tickets could cost as much as N250k at this current exchange rate and the cost of JETA1. It is not to exploit passengers, but rather to ensure the financial integrity of airlines, which is another way of ensuring air safety.”
Lamenting the challenge facing operators, Okonkwo said, “You have naira and you can’t convert it to dollars. So, the solution to this is for our minister to understand that we need a special window with the CBN to access foreign exchange.”
He, therefore, advised the new minister to “work with other agencies of government to rid the sector of speculators. There is no reason, no matter the international price of crude oil, that the aviation fuel should be delivered at a pump price higher than N500. Everything you see on top of it is speculation.
He added, “The government and new aviation minister have to recognize the aviation industry as one of the essential industries in the country. It is no more for the rich only but a means of transportation.”
The Chief Executive Officer of Centurion Aviation, Group Capt. Ojikutu, said, “Local airfare for a one-hour flight should be about $200 due to costs. We need to do the needful: refine fuel locally and establish MRO where maintenance can be done locally. Then airfares can come down significantly.”
Meanwhile, officials have said flight disruption may worsen over the shortage of aircraft.
adapted from the Punch Newspapers