By Ayoola Olaitan
Following the outbreak of coronavirus, the aviation sector has been one of the economic areas mostly affected by the virus. The ensuing fear has characterized the aviation industry with lots of airline operators cancelling flights with the horror of the disease spreading like wildfire across the globe.
It has been difficult for airlines to consistently record huge profit in the face of fear of doing business and high levels of regulation due to the outbreak of the deadly virus also known as COVID-19.
Airlines have high cost assets like planes which have little alternative use when flights are been canceled or air travel passengers traffic drops. The aviation industry revenues in airlines, airport and other related entities would definitely be affected. The aviation sector will be losing a huge amount of money of about N160billion and over 22,200 jobs.
International Air Transport Association (IATA) an umbrella body of over 290 airlines globally has noted that international flights in Africa has dropped by roughly 20 percent in March and April, while domestic flights have fallen by 15 percent in March and 25 percent in April and this loss is based on data available if the spread of the coronavirus continued. The global body also said on Thursday last week that Nigeria would also lose approximately 2.2 million passengers.
IATA said, “International bookings in Africa are down roughly 20 per cent in March and April, domestic bookings have fallen by about 15 per cent in March and 25 per cent in April, according to the latest data.
“African airlines had lost $4.4billion in revenue as of March 11, 2020. Ticket refunds have increased by 75 percent in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019 (01 February – 11 March).”
On Wednesday last week, Nigeria’s record of COVID-19 reached eight infected persons which made the country ban air travel movements of flights to over 10 countries and there are more ominous signs with the figures increasing to twelve casualties on Friday last week.
Over 3,916 people have died and 110,000 cases have been recorded in over 100 countries with the spread of corona virus around the world in less than two months since the outbreak in Wuhan, China.
With millions of people now in quarantine worldwide and with the increasing number daily there is fear that if this virus continues to spread nations of the world might be forced into recession and airline operators might run into bankruptcy.
With the increase in the spread of this virus, there might be need to shut down key aspects of the Nigeria economy, which the aviation sector will be the first shot of call and this is what most people don’t want to see happen. This, however, is becoming a reality with the recent ban by the Federal Government on air travel some countries to avoid the spread with the increase as the number of cases of people rises from 8 to 12 persons in Nigeria.
Gradually, reality is setting in for Nigerians as some airline operators have suspended their activities to affected countries. Neighboring countries like Ghana, Senegal and Kenya have already suspended flights activities in their countries.
Recently, Nigeria has followed suit and one of the airlines that had done this officially is Airk Air who on Wednesday suspended its flight service to all West Costal destinations following the continued spread of the virus.
“The safety and well-being of our personnel and valued customers are paramount at this critical time. We do not want to take chances and this is why we have taken this decision,” Chief Executive Officer of Arik Air, Captain Roy Ilegbodu, said in a statement on Wednesday last week.
One of the local airline operators Air Peace has also suspended Liberal and Senegal flights as the Federal Government is to restrict movements of International flights from Lagos and Abuja in coming days.
Similarly, Air Peace said it would also be reducing its Freetown, Sierra Leone and Banjul, Gambia operations to one flight a week and would suspend its Dubai via Sharjah flights from next week.
Chief Operating Officer, Air Peace, Mrs. Toyin Olajide, said the airline would also be reducing its operations into Accra, Ghana from Lagos to two flights daily and suspends its Abuja-Accra operations.
Her words: “Air Peace, as a result of the adverse effects of the coronavirus pandemic on passenger traffic, has today taken the hard decision to downsize its flight operations in order to cut the mounting costs occasioned by the pandemic.”
On the domestic scene, she noted that the airline was reducing its frequencies while at the same time, restructuring operations by deploying hoppers to more airports.
“Our international operations into Dubai through Sharjah International airport shall be suspended from next week as the United Arab Emirates has shut its airports to nationals from other countries including but not limited to Nigeria.”
Nigeria, however, is already witnessing stock market crash which is expected to lead into serious economic crisis if not a global recession. The respective governments including Nigeria would have to intervene and fight against the long stay of COVID-19 to prevent possible massive loss of jobs across all sectors.
In a bid to measure the effects of this pandemic on air travel activities in Nigeria, MMS Plus reached the Public Relations Officer of SAHCO, Vanessa Uansohia, who disclosed that certain measures have been put in place to manage the crisis.
The pandemic, according to her, is a global challenge which had grossly affected the aviation sector in the last few weeks with ground handling companies also feeling the heat.
Highlighting some of the efforts put in place by SAHCO as precautionary measures; she noted the sensitization of members of staff, spread of bulletin around the organization as well as supply of protective items by the organization.
The spokesperson at NAHCO, Mr. Tayo Ajakaye NAHCO told our correspondent that the entire aviation industry has been affected by COVID-19 as the travel bans led to material reduction in air travel.
He, however, asserted that the most important thing was safety of the general public, assuring that his company was very focused on the safety of all stakeholders especially its clients, customers and members of staff.
NAHCO as a stakeholder in the aviation industry and by extension in Nigerian airports is cooperating with port health to ascertain any passengers suspected to be infected and also are putting all resources necessary to ensure that all its staff are safe and safety measures like display of sanitised and soap with adequate water to maintain hygiene are in place. This is a global challenge and all hands are on deck to fight this virus.
A stakeholder representing air freight forwarders, President of Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON), Mr. Frank Ogunojemite, also reacted on the effects of the virus as it is affecting the air travel sector like every other sector of the economy.
According to him, before the outbreak of the disease 70 percent of the consignments coming into Nigeria were from China, hence, the pandemic and halted economic activities led to limited business activities and this would invariably mean fewer jobs to do in the air freight sector.
“Basically, our thoughts should be on how to curb the ravaging spread of the coronavirus pandemic and not just the economic angle. People have to be alive before we talk about businesses”, he said.
Also speaking on the effects of the virus, the President of National Association of Freight Forwarders and Consolidators (NAFFAC), Prince Adeyinka Bakare, noted that the virus declined businesses globally as countries such as; Asia, Europe and America are being closed down and there are places where the majority of the global freight are coming from.
The Federal Government as a result of this development is set to shut down three International airports over fear of the spread of the virus. The three airports to be shut down are; Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano; Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu; and the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa and the closure took effect on Saturday, last week.