Call it Molue in the air or MoluAir, and you will not be wrong. But the truth is that low budget carriers are beginning to mull the idea of ‘all-standing’, no-seat commercial airplanes, partly similar to Lagos’ freestyle mass transit buses of old, otherwise called, Molue.
Colombian low-cost airline, VivaColombia, is considering plans to remove all seats from its planes and make passengers stand.They hope the move will drive down fares by allowing them to squeeze more passengers into each flight, opening up air travel to working class Colombians and budget holidaymakers.
Aviation stakeholders in Nigeria are, however, wary of such “weird” business model; highlighting why it will not work. While they are not unaware of such dynamics in favour of cheaper fares, there are more concerned for passenger safety.
The no-frills’ carrier, VivaColombia, announced this week that it is adding 50 new Airbus 320s to its fleet to capitalise on the country’s growing tourist market. The new planes will have more seats and lower running costs with the first one going into service at the start of 2018.
VivaColombia’s founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), William Shaw, told foreign media that the airline was looking into vertical travel options. He said: “There are people out there right now researching whether you can fly standing up – we’re very interested in anything that make travel less expensive.“Who cares if you don’t have an in-flight entertainment system for a one-hour flight? Who cares that there aren’t marble floors or that you don’t get free peanuts?”
The concept is not new and airlines have been toying with the idea of standing sections on flights for years. In 2003, Airbus came up with an idea of allowing passengers to be braced in a vertical “seat”.The largest carrier in Nigeria, Air Peace, said it was good enough that the local regulations have no provisions for experiments.
Spokesperson of the airlines, Chris Iwarah, said “even if we had such, as an airline that prioritises the safety and comfort of its passengers and crew that certainly is not an idea we want to adopt.”Iwarah has some queries: “What happens if there is turbulence or other similar issues mid-flight? What about taking off and landing, especially where it is not very smooth? For us, we will always insist on practices that guarantee safety and place lives and comfort above economic considerations.”
The National President, National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), the downstream sector of the industry, Bernard Bankole, was quick to dismiss the idea of an all-standing passenger flight, describing it as “unsafe”.“Safety first, and I don’t subscribe to it, especially in an environment where we lack maintenance culture,” Bankole said.
The regulatory agency saddled with safety policies and implementation, among others, is the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). Spokesperson of the apex regulator, Sam Adurogboye, told The Guardian that no-frills airlines are not new, and not necessarily unsafe, but the Nigeria environment is not ready for such. Adurogboye explained that airlines had over time tinkered with diverse low-cost ideas including payment of fares onboard.
“All of these also have their challenges, so airlines in advanced countries keep looking for new ones. It is not that it cannot be done here, but we are yet to get there because even the basic rules are still very difficult for a lot of people to comply with.
“There was a time Aero Contractors introduced onboard payment of meals, because in-flight catering is optional. But many resisted it. You would be surprised to find people that will still resist such new ideas around here,” Adurogboye said.
Ryanair also proposed standing areas on its fleet in 2010. At the time boss Michael O’Leary described the standing seats as “bar stools with seatbelts” and expressed doubts that seatbelts were even necessary.
“A plane is just a bus with wings”, he said, “If there ever was a crash on an aircraft, God forbid, a seatbelt won’t save you. You don’t need a seatbelt on the London Underground. You don’t need a seatbelt on trains which are travelling at 120mph.”Civil Aviation Authorities disagreed, however, and vertical seats have not been approved by regulators in any country so far.
This may also prove to be the case in Colombia. Civil Aviation Director Alfredo Bocanegra told RCN radio that he does not approve. “People have to travel like human beings,” he said. “Anyone who had ridden on public mass transport knows that it’s not the best when you’re standing.”
Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), however, said that that the idea is not impossible for an airline like Volaris of Mexico that carries 43 million passengers in 33 routes in the region. Ojikutu doubts that Nigerian carriers are interested in low-cost services, despite the prevailing circumstances that encourage it.
“How many of the airlines operators want to fly low fare flights? How far can they go with the low fare they introduced during this election? Is anything stopping them from taking advantage of this moment to start looking into low fare flights? Must B737 be the domestic airlines aircraft that must go on every domestic route? “Must domestic airlines serve meals on every domestic route that are mostly less than one hour? Must every Nigerian private airline go on international routes? Can anyone of them in its present state compete effectively with the international airlines? We need a reorientation in the sector,” he said.