Air transportation in Nigeria has been plagued by the frequent occurrence of flight delays which has impacted travellers and the economy negatively. In this research, we examine the issue of flight delays in Nigeria as we begin by taking a look at the history of air transport in Nigeria as well as some of the causes of flight delays and its impact on the Nigerian economy.
History of Air Transport in Nigeria
Air transportation in Nigeria started during the British colonial rule. The first aircraft landed in Kano on November 1, 1925, which involved three De Havilland DH9A aircraft belonging to the Royal Air Force, RAF. The flight, led by flight Lt. Coningham took off from Helwan, Egypt with two stopovers: Sudan, and N’djamena, Chad (which was known as Fort Lany then).
Ever since, air transport has evolved from being handled/owned by the British to Nigeria having its national carrier (Nigerian Airways), to Nigeria having a fleet of domestic and international airlines operating daily in the country. However, this system has been plagued by recurrent flight delays, mainly affecting domestic flights.
The Nigerian Airways
Nigerian Airways was formed on 23rd August 1958. It was formerly known as West African Airways Corporation Nigeria Limited (WAAC Nigeria). WAAC as a company was a joint venture between the Nigerian government, Elder Dempster lines (Elder Dempster Lines was a UK shipping company that traded from 1932 to 2000), and the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). The major shareholder in the company was Nigeria with 51% followed by Elder Dempster lines with 33% and BOAC with 16%.
On March 25, 1961, Elder Dempster and BOAC sold their shares to the Nigerian Government making Nigeria the sole owner of the company. Unfortunately, the airline ceased operations in 2003. This was speculated to be due to incompetent management, retrogressive union activism, staff resistance to change, and corruption among others.
Data on Flight Operations in Nigeria
Nigeria has 32 airports that had 14 million passengers in 2021, despite the country having a population of 200 million people. Lagos airport alone accounts for 65% of this traffic. In 2021, the total number of domestic and international flights operated in Nigeria was 74,537 and 9,675 respectively.
The Normalisation of Flight Delays
Unfortunately in Nigeria, it has become the norm for domestic carriers to have flight delays. In extreme cases, even after lengthy delays, flights can be cancelled or shifted to another day, causing discomfort and additional cost to travellers. From our research, we think flight delays are caused by some of these key reasons:
Data on Domestic Flight Delays in 2019-2021
- Shortage of Aviation Fuel Supplies: Aeroplanes are fueled with aviation fuel. In Nigeria, aviation fuel is both limited and costly, and this can result in flight delays. In 2016 there was a fuel shortage that caused some international airlines to suspend flights to Nigeria and other airlines had to be refuelled in neighbouring countries like Ghana. Another occurred in 2016 when the airlines complained about high fuel prices at ₦200 per litre which has more than quadrupled to over ₦700 per litre in recent times. A resolution was made in 2017 to give airline operators the licence to import aviation fuel so they can bring in cheaper products.
The major issue contributing to the high cost of fuel is the high foreign exchange rate required to import fuel and the difficulties in transporting the fuel to the airports, as the pipeline system from the depot to the airport has not been fixed in two decades, so trucks have to be used to supply the products. According to experts, repairs done on the pipeline from Mosimi/Ejigbo to the MMA depot can contribute to a 20% reduction in fuel prices.
- Lack of Adequate Airport Infrastructure: The capacity for check-in at the country’s major airports is far less than what is required for on-time performance. Airlines are compelled to check-in passengers travelling to a variety of destinations from a small number of check-in desks at both the Lagos and Abuja domestic terminals, resulting in large waits and delays in passenger processing. There is also a need for up-to-date technologies in Nigerian Airports. For instance, numerous carousels were non-operational during the recent Christmas season in popular airports like Lagos and Abuja, slowing down the check-in process and causing passengers to wait extended periods of time to receive their luggage.
- Inadequate Technology for Air Traffic Controllers: An Aircraft typically waits 5 minutes at the runway’s holding point for an aircraft that just took off to reach cruise altitude before being allowed to take off. Frequently, particularly at the Lagos Airport, a plane about to take off can wait up to 15–20 minutes before being allowed to take off. These delays accumulate and cause further delays.
According to the annual report published by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, 74,537 domestic flights were operated in 2021 which conveyed 12,050,264 passengers. 41,328 (55%) domestic flights were delayed while 542 flights were cancelled. Air peace, Overland, Azman, Dana, Max Air, and Arik Airlines had over 55% of their flights delayed in Nigeria in 2021.
In 2019, 65,401 domestic flights were operated according to the annual report published by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. 37,510 domestic flights were delayed while 356 flights were cancelled.Domestic Flights Delayed in 2019-2021Data on International Flight Delays 2019–2021
In 2021, a total of 9,675 international flights were operated according to the annual report published by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. A total of 3,216 (33%) international flights were delayed while 37 flights were cancelled. While in 2019, 15,474 international flights were operated and a total of 4,880 international flights were delayed, while 82 flights were cancelled.
The chart below shows a comparison of the total number of flights that were delayed in 2019 and 2021. Domestic flight delays increased from 37,510 (in 2019) to 41,328 (in 2021), indicating a 10% increase over a 2 year period. While international flight delays decreased from 4,880 (in 2019) to 3,216 (in 2021), indicating a 34% decrease over a 2 year period.Total Number of Delayed Flights 2019–2021Passengers Bill of Rights in Nigeria
The Consumer Protection Regulations were implemented to educate airline passengers about the regulations published by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for the protection of air travellers’ rights. The rights are derived from Part 19 of ‘Nigeria’s Civil Aviation Regulations 2012, Vol. II.’
All airlines, international and domestic, are subject to the regulations, which provide basic passenger rights and responsibilities, as well as airline obligations.
- The right to the full value for your money.
- The right to compensation for flight cancellation, delay, damaged/lost baggage, and denied boarding for reasons other than technical, weather conditions, air traffic control restrictions, security risks, and industrial disputes that affect the operations of flight.
- The right to book and confirm tickets with an airline of your choice.
- The right to the provision of a conducive airport environment before, during, and after flights.
- The right to seek redress for all irregularities during your flight
- The right to timely feedback in respect of matters/complaints lodged with service providers.
- The right to be fully informed about flight status
- The right to be treated with respect and dignity irrespective of race or physical condition.
Under the Civil Aviation Act 2006 (CAA), NCAA Regulations (part 19), and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA), passengers have certain legal rights when a flight is delayed;
The Economic Impact of Flight Delays
- For 30 minutes: you have the right to know the reason for the delay
- For 2 hours: you are entitled to refreshment
- For 3 hours: you are entitled to a full refund from the airline
- Between 10 pm — 4 am: you are entitled to transportation and hotel accommodation
A recent study by the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) in June 2020 showed that air transportation had a significant contribution to the Nigerian economy by providing 241,000 jobs both directly and indirectly as well as contributing about $1.7 billion to the Nigerian economy, which is about 0.4% of the GDP.
According to the study, Nigeria’s passenger facilitation is at 1.8/10, below the African average of 3/10. On the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitive Index, Nigeria ranks 69th out of 136 countries for cost competitiveness and on the Enabling Trade Index, Nigeria ranks 127th out of 136 countries globally for the facilitation of free flow of goods over the border.
A more efficient air transport system will cause an increase in the growth of the industry by 124% in the next 20 years with a contribution of about $4.7 billion to the GDP and an estimate of about 555,700 jobs.Solving Flight Delays in Nigeria
According to industry analysts and engineers, airports in Nigeria do not require new runways at the moment, infrastructure upgrades, should be accomplished through public-private partnerships via airport concessions.
The Government could be more proactive in taking action against airlines when they default on the regulations. The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) could consider doing more periodic maintenance programs on airports and their systems.
The necessary regulatory bodies could ensure that flights are efficiently scheduled to minimise runway congestion. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency and Nigerian Airspace Management Agency could also work closer together to ensure that pilots are better briefed on weather conditions. Airlines could be obligated to inform passengers about flight delays by text message or phone call.