By Chinelo Obogo
Chief Executive Officer of United Nigeria airline, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, has said that the over 50 percent increase in the price of aviation fuel and the difficulty in accessing foreign exchange is responsible for the hike in flight tickets.
Speaking with aviation reporters in Lagos, he said considering the cost of operations in this industry which includes the rise in the price of aviation fuel from about N160 toN275 per litre, there may not be any amount paid for a ticket that would be too much.
He also expressed worry with the inability of many airlines to access foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which is used to purchase spare parts for the aircraft.
“If you look at the cost of operations in this industry, I might say that there may not be any amount paid for a ticket that would be too much. Sometimes the cost of ticket depends on whether it is gotten in peak time or when demand is higher. Sometimes you have to fly full and come back empty, so you have to find a way to cover the cost of empty flights, so people should understand that operating airlines cost a lot of money.
“In terms of the fuel price, it is a great cause for concern. When you know that the cost component of aviation fuel is about 30 to 40 percent, you know that there is cause for concern. To remain operational, certain cost components have to be adjusted and the only way you can get back your money is through ticketing or cargo or courier. You have to pay salaries and pay so many other costs. If you want to get a cheaper ticket, you need to go to website and book in advance and save money. If you get your ticket at peak period, you have to pay the maximum cost. It is my wish that there would be some form of intervention in policies that would cut down on our operation cost so that more people can access it because there is so much risk travelling by road.
“Accessing foreign exchange is a big problem for us because the official bidding market is a bi-weekly thing, which means that if you approach your bank to get if for you this week, if you don’t get it, you have to wait till next week. Last two weeks, our bank hasn’t been able to get even one dollar from the bid process since February, so it is a big problem in the industry. You can’t buy spare parts locally, you have to source for foreign exchange, so, I advocate that there should be a special window for the aviation industry to access forex,” he said.
On its plan to establish its MRO, the Okonkwo said that the airline is already in talks with foreign partners and those talks had reached an advance stage.
He further stressed that the airline was in for the long haul and that is why the airline is building capacity to handles A-Checks and the acquisition of land from the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to build their own facility was one of their plans to be met in 24 months although now two (2) months behind.
“We are in a process of acquiring land space from FAAN to set up our MRO and since our base is in Enugu, we wanted to establish it there in Enugu. We gave ourselves 24 months to start doing our own C-Check in our facility however because we are in the process of getting space we are two (2) months behind schedule.”
Director of Administration of the airline, Mr. Linus Awute who spoke also said the airline was trying to grow organically and so is not mistaken its recent successes in passenger traffic for the norm and that it why it has not introduced more aircraft immediately.
“Within four weeks which we commenced, we did about 25,000 passengers and currently we are doing about 3,200 passengers every week and we are organically increasing. We are expanding into different parts of Nigeria we are creating the necessary structure that will help us achieve the target that we have set for ourselves,” he said.