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SPECIAL REPORT: Nigeria tops list of grounded aircraft fleets globally

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NIGERIA has attained the first position in the top 10 countries’ list with the highest percentage of grounded fleet.

The West African nation leads the chart with 64.23 per cent, according to the latest data released by ch-aviation, a website invested in the database of airlines in the world, for June 2022.

The report, titled, ‘The Number of Worldwide Active Aircraft Continues to Grow in June 2022’, states that the most populous black nation had a total of 123 aircraft, but with only 44 active and 79 grounded.

The next on the list is Hong Kong, which has a total of 244 aircraft. 151 of the planes are grounded, while only 93 is active. Its grounded fleet is 61.89 per cent.

Iran is third on the list, with 51.75 per cent of grounded planes. With 133 out of a total of 257 planes grounded, the country has 124 active planes.

Grounded aircraft for June 2022. Credit: ch-aviation

South Africa, Indonesia and Kenya are also on the list of countries with the most aircraft grounded for the month.

“Nigeria and Hong Kong are at the top of the countries with the most aircraft grounded. Nigeria has 79 of 123 aircraft grounded, while Hong Kong has 151 of 244 aircraft grounded. Iran, Malaysia, South Africa, Indonesia, Thailand, Thailand, Kenya, Philippines and Argentina follow,” the report reads.


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A recurring matter

Ch-aviation had reported that Nigeria was number three in the top 10 countries’ list for May, with the highest percentage of grounded fleets.

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War-ridden Ukraine led the chart with 90.10 per cent, according to the data released by the Swiss firm for May 2022.

The report, titled, ‘The World’s Active Airline Fleets are on the Rise Again’, said Ukraine had a total of 101 aircraft, with only 10 active and 91 grounded.

The next on the list was Hong Kong, with a total of 243 aircraft; 156 of the aircraft were grounded, while only 87 were active. Its grounded fleet was 64.02 per cent.

Nigeria was third on the list with 57.72 per cent of grounded planes. It had a record of 71 grounded planes out of 123 total planes. Only 52 were active. This showed a continuous decline in the space of just 30 days, from the capture in May to what was recorded in June 2022.

An earlier report in February 2021 had revealed that Nigeria was one of the countries in the top 10 list of grounded aircraft.

Nigeria fleet
Nigeria-Airways grounded aircraft. Credit: Guardian

That report revealed that Nigeria had 67 planes out of a total of 105 planes grounded, as the country only had 38 active planes, from a similar poll by the same research body.

Reacting to the grim situation, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, observed that Nigeria’s unserviced aircraft statistics spoke of the dearth of professionalism in the nation.

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“Nigeria is top of the list of 10 countries utilising unserviced aircraft with a staggering figure of 69.23 per cent in 2021.

“Several aircraft stay on the ground. The choice of equipment speaks to professionalism in the industry,” he said at the event, which heralded the purchase of 13 new aircraft by Air Peace.

Nigeria, junkyard of obsolete aircraft

Experts have expressed that Nigeria is a junkyard of obsolete aircraft because it is easier and cheaper to get. For instance, most Boeing 737 aeroplanes are offered at give-away prices in Europe and Nigerian operators easily go after them because the prices are low.

It has been noted that the Boeing series are quite expensive to maintain, and some of them consume lots of fuel, hence the reason global airlines have been phasing them out time after time. What’s even worse is that the C-check costs between $2 million and $3 million per aircraft, making the investment penny wise but pound foolish.

Aircraft generally undergo maintenance checks in A, B, C and D classes, which are done periodically. An aircraft is expected to perform a C check every 15 to 18 months. This type of aircraft maintenance is a comprehensive inspection that covers hidden parts so that any damage or cracks in the internal parts of the aircraft can be detected.

Nigeria fleet
An Air Peace aircraft

An aviation consultant, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, argued that the best way to get the best out of the aircraft problem is to phase out the Boeing series, known to carry a range of 85 to 215 passengers for a smaller, fuel-efficient aircraft, which would reduce the amount of foreign capital spent on turnaround maintenance and other factors.

Ohunayo said, “Some of these airlines that have high capacity and number of seats but are just giving 60-70 per cent load factor can be downgraded to a low capacity aircraft. There is a need for them to look at alliances and commercial partnerships with other airlines operating their routes to bring down costs and share passengers. Again, schedules can be adjusted to fit the new realities.”

Fleet of Nigeria’s air operators

Every fleet operating in Nigeria, except Green Africa, has, at least, one parked aircraft. For some airlines, the number is up to half of the full fleet. Using Planespotters, The ICIR discovered that three of Aero Contractors fleet were parked, while only four out of a total aircraft of seven were active.

Air Peace has a diverse fleet of 28 aircraft active, while four were parked. Arik Air has 14 active aircraft, with four parked ones.

Nigeria fleet
Dana Air’s McDonnell Douglas MD 83. Credit: Nairametrics

Azman has six active with one parked; Dana Air has two parked with six active; Ibom Air has five active, one parked; Max Air has two parked with eight active, and Overland Airways has one parked with six active. Only Green Africa out of the 10 airlines has all three of its fleet active. They fly three ATR 72 planes.

Aside from the major argument against Boeing on fuel consumption and maintenance, there is also another striking factor in the fleet of most aeroplanes operating in Nigeria. It is the fact that the average age of many of the Boeing planes is quite old.

Planespotter reveals five common aircraft brands in most Nigerian airlines’ fleet. They are the Boeing 737-500, Boeing 737-300, Boeing 737-400, Bombardier CRJ-900, and the Embraer ERJ-145.

Based on the ICIR findings, the Boeing 737-300 is common in Air Peace (10), Dana Air (2), Max Air (5), Azman (2). The Boeing 737-500 also features in Azman (4), Aero Contractors (4) and Air Peace (5), while the Bombardier CRJ-900 features in Ibom (5) and Arik Air (4) times. Of course, Air Peace has begun to innovate with the new Embraer ERJ and E195-E2 series, with eight and five planes respectively. The high number of the Boeing brand in the majority of Nigerian airline fleets cannot be ignored.

Nigerian fleet
A Boeing 737- 300. Credit: Infinite Flight Community

The Boeing 737-300, Boeing 737-400 and Boeing 737-500 are referred to as the Boeing Classic, a distinct narrow-body aircraft launched in 1979, 43 years ago. While the age of the aeroplanes may not matter, the factors of turnaround maintenance, how recent some of their flight controls are, and even the charging ports in the planes may not fit in with the modern technology of today’s electronic gadgets and airport innovative system, in terms of, say, emergencies and fuel usage.

The Bombardier CRJ-900 and Embraer ERJ-145 are regional jets, said to have been produced around 1999. These planes are closer to modernisation, with lesser seats, better engines and extra consideration for emergencies. For instance, the CRJ-900 has an additional service door placed at the aft starboard side of the fuselage, providing access for aircraft cleaning and galley replenishment crew, while passengers leave through the forward passenger door.

Ibom Air’s CRJ 900. Credit: BusinessDay

The CRJ-900 seats can have 90 passengers, while the ERJ140 and ERJ 145 boast of 44 passengers and 50 passengers respectively. Some of these modern planes have a way of making aviation more sustainable, with less fuel consumption and easy maintenance. It even helps passengers enjoy some new features in terms of overall service delivery.

Ch-aviation lends credence to that fact, adding that narrow body jets are the most used now, with 74 per cent of tracked aircraft active. Widebody and regional jets are equally in demand, with 65 per cent and 62 per cent respectively. Turboprops are the least, with 40 per cent of aircraft still parked.

In April 2019, Air Peace placed a record order for 10 brand new Embraer 195-E2 planes, the first of such an order in Africa. The order comprises purchase rights for another 20 E195-E2 jets.

Inside Air Peace Embraer E195-E2 Business cabin. Credit:Onemileatatime.com

The Chief Operating Officer, Air Peace, Toyin Olajide, said the airline invested in the E2 family because of its super-efficiency, describing it as “an aircraft for now and the future.”

Olajide said, “This is because a lot of money will be saved as regards the operating costs. There are savings on fuel, bearing in mind the high cost of aviation fuel in Nigeria. These aircraft coming into the country will help lower operating costs. The performance is awesome.”

The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Seven Star Global Hangar, Mr Isaac Balami, believed that so much money is expended on aircraft maintenance overseas.

“It pains me so much to see over $1 billion wasted on capital flights every year in the region. This includes the military, paramilitary, scheduled and cargo airlines. We are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to grow while our youths are jobless,” Balami said in a recent interview.

He bemoaned the lack of an indigenous maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility that would help reduce airlines’ spend on maintenance abroad and create jobs for the country’s teeming youths.

Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Seven Star Global Hangar, Mr Isaac Balami

Similarly, the chairman of United Nigeria Airline, Obiora Okonkwo, who spoke after the airline’s inaugural flight into Enugu in February 2021, said the investment in smaller aeroplanes was strategic, filling a gap in the industry.

Okonkwo said, “We have a big plan. The market is huge; there is a need for a lot of aircraft. It might surprise you to know that we have a full load on all the routes we have operated this morning. Today is the first day of our service. So, that is good and it shows what will happen.

“I guess those who are in the business should be competing with us first. We should be the people they should be worried about because we are new. We think that within the next three months, we shall be able to expand our routes.”

United Nigeria Airline owns four Embraer ERJ-145 planes, all purchased in 2020.

Nigeria playing catch-up as North America and Europe record most active fleets

North America and Europe have been designated as the continent with the highest number of active aircraft, according to ch-aviation’s latest report.

The report reads, “North America and Europe are the continents with the most active aircraft, having 87 per cent and 86 per cent of their fleets active. Oceania comes in third with 85 per cent, followed by South America (79 per cent) and Asia (76 per cent). The lowest percentage of active aircraft in June 2022 was Africa with 68 per cent.”

It also states that the Netherlands is the country with the highest percentage of active aircraft, with 218 of their 221 aircraft currently active.

It is a structure problem – Balami

Balami attributed the sorry situation in Nigeria to what he called “a lack of government-enabled structure.” While admitting that maintenance was a recurring problem, he maintained that government’s support was important.

He said, “We have a lot of things to put in place and it is not about buying a new kind of aircraft. Air Peace has a brand new Embraer, but they are still having issues. It is not Air Peace’s fault.

“Even if you have a new aircraft, it can have issues. We have the Boeing 737 Max; today it is only flying in America or a few spaces. The point is that we need a sustainable structure in place to support businesses.”

For context, on March 10, 2019, a newly produced Boeing plane, 737 Max on Flight 302, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, crashed which, led to a worldwide grounding of all 737 Max aircraft until December 2020. One of the casualties of the March 10 tragedy was a Nigerian professor, Pius Adesanmi, who was among the 157 passengers and the crew members who died in the accident.

Barely six months earlier, a new 737 Max had crashed, killing all its passengers.

Remains of the ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Credit: Business Insider

Balami argued that not much attention was being paid to maintenance, saying the process had been continually ignored by Nigeria’s Federal government. He recounted how the government in 2020 chose to bail out car hire services but paid lip service to establishing an MRO facility in Nigeria that could help to stem capital flight.

“The managing director of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) mentioned that $6 billion had been lost to maintenance, and the question I ask myself is: If the government knows that, has it ever supported us? The answer is no,” he said.

Other attendant factors

The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) recently revealed that over 70 airlines had gone into extinction in Nigeria in the past few years, and three others could collapse in the coming weeks.

Factors for the possible collapse were given as the high cost of aviation fuel and excessive charges airlines pay to aviation bodies, among others.

The Vice-President of AON, Mr Allen Onyema, lamented that price of aviation fuel, technically known as Jet-A1, had hit an all-time high of N714 per litre.

At a recent National Aviation Conference (FNAC) in Abuja, Onyema said while the aviation fuel crisis was not limited to Nigeria, it was made worse by the naira-to-dollar exchange.

He noted that in order to address the challenge, the Federal government had approved 10,000 metric tonnes of aviation fuel to the airlines, but said the carriers were yet to have access to it.

On Monday, May 16, 2022, the AON, in a statement, explained that the scarcity was impacting operations and could lead to rescheduling or cancellations, as the case may be.

Aviation fuel. Credit: Guardian.

The Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited, Garba Deen Muhammad, exclusively told The ICIR that the N480 per litre price of aviation fuel agreed at the House of Representatives was only for a consignment containing six million litres of aviation fuel.

Muhammad, who spoke in a telephone interview with The ICIR on May, 16, 2022 regarding whether the distribution of aviation fuel had commenced to the air operators, clarified that the NNPC did not directly supply aviation fuel.

He added that the airline operators were allowed to choose one marketer to supply the fuel at that price to them, with that volume of fuel to be supplied at N480 per litre.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Clement Isong, gave further insight into the situation, saying that it was only one firm that had the consignment and the next one would sell for higher than N480.

“One company was able to sell that product imported at N332.6 for N480 per litre after all the handling charges. It still has six million of that product left. That six million is what is selling at N480 per litre. Apart from that one, another was brought in by the NNPC, which has been sold to other people, but not to the first group of people (aviation operators). The handling costs and logistics costs were higher, and it is selling between N540 and N550 per litre in Lagos,” Isong told The ICIR in a telephone interview.

When asked why the price was on the rise, he revealed that the marketers were only given 15 per cent of the Central Bank rate and 85 per cent of the black market rate to purchase forex, hence the rising cost.

“The CBN governor said because of the oil theft, he does not have enough dollars to give to people. If you get your dollar, you have to buy at the black market rate. As long as that continues, there would not be enough forex and anything you buy with forex would be expensive. We all have to decide whether we want to fly or go by road,” he said.

Ohunayo explained that fuel had become a major problem for Nigerian operators as it has been eating up to 50 per cent of airlines’ operating cost.

Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos

He said, “Fuel is a major component of airlines’ operations and total costs. In the past, it was 20 per cent, then it moved to 30-35 per cent. Right now, it is about 50 per cent of their costs. When you do not have enough passengers or the economic situation cannot allow you to increase the fare with the realities of the present fuel challenges, then something has to give. Either you stop, reduce or review your operations.

“In some cases, you look for a big partner to get loans from the bank. With aviation fuel of N714 per litre, when you multiply that one on an hour’s flight on a 737, you are looking at close to N4 million. When you have N4 million, you look at the number of passengers that you have to carry for such flights to be profitable, asides from other cost components.”

The consultant said the situation was quite precarious with airlines in Nigeria just recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ohunayo and Balami’s voices represented the general belief in the industry, that the best way to do this business would be to substantially reduce operating costs, and one of the major ways to do that would be for the several government’s agencies to suspend the various charges they have imposed on airlines, so the planes can continue to survive the turbulent skies.

But would they?

Author profile

Experienced Business reporter seeking the truth and upholding justice. Covered capital markets, aviation, maritime, road and rail, as well as economy. Email tips to jolaoluwa@icirnigeria.org. Follow on Twitter @theminentmuyiwa and on Instagram @Hollumuyiwah.

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