Data obtained from the NCAA, the air industry apex regulator, show that there was a steady increase in the aircraft movement from 2017 to 2019 at the airports, including Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Enugu, and Kano.
Others were Osubi, Kaduna, Calabar, Sokoto and other 20 airports in the country.
In 2017, 2018 and 2019, there were 210,693, 234,367 and 249,756 flight activities including arrival and departure. But in 2020, the number of aircraft movements declined to 178,517.
Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu airports had the highest number of aircraft movements with 45,217, 51,777, 9,810, 4,868.
For three years consecutively, 2017 to 2019, Lagos had the highest number of aircraft movements. However, in 2020, the numbers reduced to 45,217 leaving Abuja to overtake with 51,777.
Also, for the first time in three years, Abuja airport overtook Lagos airport in air passenger movement.
According to the documents, Lagos air passenger traffic from 2017 to 2020 was 3,684,052; 4,245,147; 4,422,023; 2,436,763, while that of Abuja was 2,826,113; 3,863,083; 4,403,847; 2,910,786.
According to the International Air Transport Association, the decline in air passengers transported in 2020 was the largest recorded since Revenue Passenger Kilometers started being tracked in 1950.
The Director General of IATA, Willie Walsh, said, “The year 2020 was a year that we would all like to forget. But analysing the performance statistics for the year reveals an amazing story of perseverance. At the depth of the crisis in April 2020, 66 per cent of the world’s commercial air transport fleet was grounded as governments closed borders or imposed strict quarantines.
“A million jobs disappeared. And industry losses for the year totaled $126bn. Many governments recognised aviation’s critical contributions and provided financial lifelines and other forms of support.
“But it was the rapid actions by airlines and the commitment of our people that saw the airline industry through the most difficult year in its history.”
According to IATA, the regional rankings, based on total passengers carried on scheduled services by airlines registered in the Africa region was 34.3 million passengers, down 65.7 per cent over 2019
Experts in the industry have attributed the decline to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic which resulted in the restriction of movement and grounding of aircraft.
Reacting to the development, the spokesperson for Air Peace Limited, Stanley Olisa, said, “The COVID outbreak last year dealt a blow to the global economy and the aviation sector was the worst hit by the pandemic as there were series of lockdowns and flight operations were suspended.”
Olisa also noted that the grounding of aircraft and the halt in operations led to not only decline in flight activities, but air passenger traffic reduced too.
He said, “These developments affected passenger traffic when flights resumed. Eventually, passengers were being very health and safety conscious and tended to reduce their air travels.
“This is why there was a decline in flight frequencies. But pax load and flights seem to have increased and this happened gradually.”
The Managing Partner, Aglow Aviation Support Services Limited, Tayo Ojuri, said following the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, with international flight restrictions, there was a corresponding decrease in domestic flight operations.
Ojuri, “Twenty-twenty was the year the COVID started which led to restriction. We started getting restrictions from international flights which later affected domestic flights.
“Thirty per cent of domestic flights were brought by international inflow so with the reduction in the international flights, the domestic flight started reducing the number of flights and that affected the number of flight movement across Nigeria.”
He noted that some of the domestic airlines at that time also had some issues surrounding their operations which reduced the number of active domestic airline operators for that year.
“This took away Medview, Azman and we were left with just Air Peace who took its aircraft abroad for maintenance. Aero Contractors went away for a bit, Arik had a low number of aircraft due to restructuring and financial issues.
“All these things affected the flight movement because you find out that you had a lot of movement prior but when there was a decline it led to a flight reduction across Nigeria.”
The spokesperson for Dana Airlines Limited, Kingsley Ezenwa, had described the year 2020 for the industry as challenging.
He said, “Engineers were working, but flights were not moving. All the leases on aircraft were paid despite not making any income. Engineers were working because you have to keep the aircraft running to ensure they were safe through the period of the restrictions.”
Aviation security expert and a member of the Aviation Round Table, Group Captain(rtd.), John Ojikutu, said, “The decline in the aircraft movement is due to the COVID.
“It is expected to continue this year. Passenger movement will be dropping even as we prepare for the harmattan season.
“If you compare 2020 with 2019 and 2018, you will find out that there is a wide gap. The only flights available at that period were chartered flights. There were also some evacuation flights available at that period.”
He added that weather also played vital roles on how flight operations were carried out, noting that airlines must prepare adequately for every season.