At the domestic terminal one of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos (also known as MMA 1), a Boeing 737-500 classic aircraft belonging to Air Peace Airline has been positioned at the apron for a 6.45am scheduled flight to Abuja. Sitting inside the aircraft cockpit and staring through the windshield with long faces were two pilots.
The flight has been dubbed ‘the early morning bird’ going by the airline advertisement flyers, and passengers are assured of arriving Abuja by 8am. It was a cold Monday morning, the rain had been pouring endlessly all night, but the pilots and cabin crew had battled the attendant cold to arrive the airport early enough. By 5am the airline crew, with the counter and other ground handling staff had all resumed at their duty post. It is already 6.30am (just about 15minutes left on the scheduled departure time for the flight), and only a handful of the over 120 passengers checked in on the flight have been able to make their way into the aircraft. It is enough reason to get the crew furious, especially the pilots. A snag somewhere has slowed down the passenger facilitation process; it is the single screening point at the MMA.
The single scanning point is proving to be grossly inadequate to handle the over 600 passengers that are scheduled for various flights that early morning. On a daily basis, passengers queue longer than necessary to gain access to the departure lounge. During rush or peak period, it gets worse as airlines are forced to delay flights while waiting for trapped passengers to make their way to board the flight.
Baggage, Internet challenges
And then there are also delays with the baggage which doesn’t get to the aircraft on time. And airlines can’t leave without passenger’s luggage. At the airports, you also find out that the internet connectivity is poor. Sometimes it even breaks down and the airline cannot work for hours. And you need internet to do a lot of things as an airline at the airport. And this hampers the airline from working and also leads to flight delays.
You visit other airports outside the country and internet connectivity is not an issue at all for both the airlines and even for passengers inside the terminal. But Nigerian passengers don’t know about all these challenges. All what they know is that this particular airlines delayed their flight and they get angry with the airline. And once the first flight is unable to depart on schedule, it creates a ripple effect on the entire roster of the aircraft for the day.
Cycle of flight delays
On this Monday morning, the Air Peace crew were agitated knowing that once they depart Lagos for Abuja by 7.30am as against the initial target of 6.4am, it implies that they will arrive Abuja late and that they won’t keep to the next leg of the 8.45am on-time departure of the aircraft’s operation from Abuja to Port Harcourt.
What most passengers don’t seem to realise is that the aircraft that arrives at one destination needs some 10-30minutes to be cleaned, and sometimes refuelled with Jet A1, and reloaded with food and drinks.
The delay in the departure of one leg of an aircraft schedule certainly creates a delay in the next leg on the plane’s roster for the day.
According to the Chairman/CEO of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema, infrastructure deficit at airports have been responsible for the majority of delayed and cancelled flights experienced by passengers in the country.
“Let me say that most flight delays are not due to problems associated with the airlines. In fact, 99 per cent of the flight delays are not due to the fault of the airlines,” said Onyema.
Onyema lists infrastructure gaps like the single screening point at the MMAI terminal, obsolete baggage scanners and associated delays in loading passenger luggage inside the aircraft, epileptic Internet connectivity that leads to the temporary suspension of ticketing and boarding passes and other operations of the airline as stalling the ability of airlines to keep to schedule operations.
Without doubt, airlines make money by flying passengers to their destinations, and no airline will therefore want to delay or cancel flights. Passengers must remember this. But operators are decrying a situation where pilots sit idle inside cockpits as airlines are forced to delay their flights because of inadequate infrastructure at our airports.
The way forward
“We have to pause and take a critical look at the state of infrastructure that we have across Nigerian airports before we blame the airlines for flight delays” said travel agent, Abraham Ibekwe.
Ibekwe told Daily Sun that You cannot have a situation where about 2,000 passengers are queuing very early in the morning at a domestic airport in Lagos to pass through one security scanner and not expect flight delays.
He also said the poor state of runways at some of the country’s airports is enough to lead to flight delays and cancellations by airlines whose tyres are torn or shredded while landing and running into potholes on airport runways.
“That extra time spent in repairing an aeroplane that has developed a fault due to a poorly maintained runway leads to flight delays and sometimes cancellations. The clearance of a broken down aircraft on runways in Nigeria also take several hours, sometimes a day, unlike what is obtainable in most countries where it takes few minutes to rid the runway of any obstructions,” said Ibekwe.
“These are some of the ‘due to technical reasons’ excuses that leads to flight cancellations or delays that passengers often hear from the public address system. For Nigeria to have smooth and timely flight departure and arrival for scheduled commercial flights, the infrastructure at the airports must be upgraded to international standards with a proper maintenance mechanism also put in place. This is a challenge for Mr. Hadi Sirika who has been named the new Minister of Aviation; he must do everything possible to ease passenger pains at Nigerian airports,” Ibekwe added.