Air passengers have continued to bemoan the recent 100 percent hike in airfares by domestic airlines in the country.
A cross section of the passengers, who spoke with the News newsmen in separate interviews, decried the hike in the airfares in the past four weeks.
In Lagos, passengers called on the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), to intervene to bring down the air fares.
They said that most of the domestic airlines had pegged their minimum fares at N50, 000, from an average of N22, 000.
They urged FCCPC to unravel the reasons for the sudden hike in airfares by all domestic carriers.
A check at the booking counters of some airlines in Lagos showed that Lagos-Abuja, one-way economy flight sells for between N62,350 and N92,000, depending on airlines, while return tickets sells for between N115,000 and N170,000.
Flight booked in advance range from N50, 250 to N60, 450 for economy class on one-way.
Lagos-Kano flights also go for between N81, 701 and N98, 000 per seat.
Lagos-Port Harcourt route sells for N50, 950, while advance booking flight goes for N55, 751 per traveller.
The minimum ticket price for a three-week booking on Air Peace, Ibom Air, Max Air, Azman air and others have been pegged at N50,000 flat rate, showing about 115 per cent increase from N23,300 minimum rate.
A passenger, Mr David Solomon, appealed to the relevant authorities to intervene on the sudden increase in tickets price.
Solomon, who said that the new tariffs would have adverse effects on Nigerians traveling by air as most Nigerians would choose to go by road.
“How can I pay such an amount from Lagos to Benin? How can I pay double of what I used to pay?’’
Another passenger, Mrs Gladys Stevenson, said that the hike had made majority of Nigerians to resolve to go by road to Abuja on hearing the new fares.
Stevenson said: “I used to secure tickets on United Nigeria Airline to Abuja for just N46, 000.
“I almost took to my heels, as l was asked to pay N86, 500 for the same flight ticket.”
However, some aviation stakeholders have aligned with the ongoing increase, as air tariff had been deregulated for so long.
Retired Group Capt. John Ojikutu, former Commandant of the Lagos Airport and aviation security consultant, reckoned that airlines might be excused on the airfare spike, as they were for once ”charging the right fares commensurate with the economic realities”.
”It is not surprising that the airlines have continued to struggle, owing service providers and regulatory agencies’ deductions of five per cent Ticket Sales Charge (TSC) and Passenger Services Charge (PSC), just to stay afloat.”
Dr Gbenga Olowu, the President, Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI) said that tariff had been deregulated in the last 15 years ago in the sector.
Olowu said that based on this, airlines were free to change their fares, depending on the economic realities.
According to him, today,” if airlines dropped tariff from between 10 and 15 dollars, this will have pressure on cash flow, until tariff per hour is increased beyond 100 dollars that airlines are paying, it will be profitable.
“Air traffic is not mass transit, but for those who are pressed of time to get to their destinations.
“The alternative is to go by rail or road and measure to consequence.”
A stakeholder, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, also corroborated Oluwo’s position, saying increase in fuel prices and FOREX also posed serious challenge to the sector.
Ohunayo said that the agency had deregulated the airfares and that it could not interfere with the pricing.
“Increase in airfares are often determined by market forces which is what we are all experiencing today,’’ he said.
When contacted, Mr Sam Adurogboye, the General Manager, Public Affairs of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said that airfares regime had been deregulated, even before the establishment of NCAA.
Adurogboye said that airfare price was determined by the market forces of demand and supply, which the airlines had applied in their business management.
“What the civil aviation policy said we should check is predatory practice, which means that if all of them decide to be charging N50, 000 as base to any route.
“NCAA only intervenes when an airline fixes ridiculously low airfares.
“That can compromise safety standards as operations of any airline is capital intensive,’’ he said.
The General Manager, Azman Air Services, Alhaji Suleiman Lawan, said that increase in aviation fuel forced them to raise their airfares.
“Before, the price of the fuel was about N200 plus, but now increased to N450, and those in far places like Maiduguri and Sokoto, are buying the fuel at higher rates.
“Handlers and catering services providers; have all increased their charges.
“Even the tax at the airport which was N1, 000 before, but now increased to N2, 000, so, airline operators were left with no option other than to increase the fares.
“We are not even talking of profit now, we are talking of breaking through because we also have more liabilities to settle,” he said.
He said that high cost of aircraft maintenance was another reason which contributed immensely to the increase in airfares.
Lawan explained ”after every 18 months, an aircraft needs to go to abroad for maintenance, while sourcing for the foreign exchange is another problem.
“It is difficult to get dollars at the official rate, one has to go to the black market, which means, he will spend higher amount of local currency to get less foreign exchange.”
The general manager, therefore, urged the Federal Government to take measures that would assist to make aviation fuel more available and at a reasonable rate.
He urged the government to provide more landing facilities at airports, to address the problem of incessant flight delays and cancellations.
Another airline operator, Amb. Usman Darma, the Chairman, Darma Air Services, corroborated that rise in the cost of aviation fuel led to the increase in airfares.
He said that airline operators found it difficult to access foreign exchange for servicing of their aircraft abroad.
“One has to go to the black market to get dollars. Tax has also been increased at airports,” he said.
An official at Max Air Service, who did not want his name to be mentioned, lamented that cost of aviation fuel had gone up by about 200 per cent
“Operational costs have gone up, same with handling services and the exchange rate too,” he said.
The source also revealed that delays were caused by factors such as lack of proper navigational system and bad weather.
“Once one is delayed, it will affect subsequent flights,” he said.
He revealed that inadequate facilities in the airport sometimes lead to congestion and urged the government to as a matter of urgency, address these problems.
The airline operators, however, said that airfare increase had not affected their patronage because air transport is, ”for high and middle income earners’’.
“The passengers can afford it, they have fully understood the situation,” the airline operators said.
A cross-section of passengers at Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), have however decried the sudden hike in airfares by about 80 per cent.
A passenger, Alhaji Bello Noma, said that the hike could also affect the airline operators because of the tendency for them to record low patronage.
“The fare from Kano to Lagos, which was N29, 000 before, has now been increased to N50, 000, and above,” he said.
He pointed out that the hike could affect the country’s economy, ”because the government gets more revenue from the airlines when they record high patronage.”
Another passenger, Malam Shehu Abdullahi, lamented on unnecessary delays or cancellations of flight.
He said that the government should investigate the reasons behind the ugly trend with a view to addressing it.
The District Head of Maitsidau, Makoda Local Government Area of Kano state, Alhaji Magaji Galadima, urged the government to come to the aid of passengers on the issue.
”It was the insecurity situation in the country that forced many people to travel by air.
“Yet, the increment in the airfares may leave people with no option, but to return to road transport, exposing themselves to threats, ” he said.
Meanwhile, officials at the Kano Regional Office of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), declined comments on the issue, saying that its Public Relations Officer, Abuja, should be contacted for comments.
CULLED FROM NAN