*Fare hike crashes traffic by 40 per cent

It was a chaotic scene at airports yesterday, as fuel scarcity bit harder disrupting scheduled flight services for several hours.

Scores of air travellers that had turned up early for the morning rush hour were disappointed as carriers began to reschedule flights indefinitely, further disrupting services across airports nationwide.

At the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, it was bedlam at the departure wings, as most airlines announced delays to the shock of travellers.

The Guardian observed that Air Peace airline, the market-share leader, had a couple of hours delay but soon regained foothold on its scheduled operation. Arik Air, it was learnt, had a torrid time as its rescheduled morning flights only boarded in the afternoon

The situation was slightly different at the Murtala Muhammed Airport terminal two (MMA2), though not without multiple delays as the operators hunted for Jet A1.

The local airlines had lately raised the alarm over a massive spike in the price of aviation fuel, currently selling at about N620/litre at some airports nationwide, coupled with the scarcity of the commodity.

The operators said the “unbearable” spike and attendant disruption have made efficient air transport and affordable airfares unsustainable.

Recall that the carrier had in controversial circumstances earlier jacked up the base airfare by 66 per cent, scaling up the minimum ticket fare from about N30, 000 to N50, 000.

‘Today’s flight’ economy tickets sold for an average of N80, 000 on one-way, and its two-way is offered for about N130, 000.

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A stranded passenger, Kemi Olowonyo, had her 8:15a.m. Lagos-Abuja flight yet to board as at noon.

“This is utterly frustrating. The airline started with a 30-minute delay. Then, it became one hour. When that ended, they announced another one-hour delay. The announcement has become a routine across the airlines. This is just painful, to even think that I paid N75, 000 for this ticket and still am not able to fly. I read that the airlines have signed an alliance to partner one another to avert delays. Why is that not working? It is sad,” Olowonyo said.

Chief Operating Officer (COO) of one of the airlines said it is tough getting fuel to power the airplanes on schedule.

“Even if you have the money to pay, you are at the mercy of the fuel marketers. None of them wants to sell on credit any more, but you have to first pay to be serviced. It is unfortunate, but what can an operator do?”

Travel agent, Adeseun Olabayo, said the effect of the disruption cuts across the board, with passenger traffic loss of 40 per cent.

“I think the government has to do something before the industry collapses. It is fast getting to the tipping point. A lot of customers are refusing to buy tickets at the high rate that airlines are offering. So, it is not in the interest of airlines to increase airfares to cover the astronomical increase in the price of fuel. In the alternative, a lot of people are taking to the road despite the risk. Only the very rich and desperate are buying the ticket, yet there is no schedule reliability,” Olabayo said.

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Aviation fuel, also known as Jet A1, accounts for between 30 to 40 per cent of operating cost in aviation. As a deregulated arm that is exclusively controlled by suppliers, the price has consistently been fluctuating along with Naira to Dollar exchange rate.

The Guardian learnt that the fuel, which cost about N450/litre last month, has pushed up to N599 in the South and as much as N605/litre in some parts of the North, creating scarcity at the ramp and attendant flight delays.

A local carrier, Ibom Air, apologised to air travellers for its flight disruptions, blaming the development on fuel scarcity.

“We have encountered a situation today where aviation fuel is scarce and therefore unavailable at almost all our flight destinations. This has significantly impacted our flight schedule today and may do the same tomorrow.

“We sincerely apologise to all our passengers affected by the current situation. At this time, we have no indication when the issue will be resolved, however, we are working with our fellow airlines and fuel suppliers to find a solution,” the management stated.