The suspension of Azman Air, albeit temporarily by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) over gross violation of air safety, may have widened or opened the space for other airlines that ply many of the strategic routes of the grounded carrier at least until the suspension is lifted. Azman operates to many destinations within Nigeria. It operates to Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Gombe, Sokoto, Birnin Kebbi, Abuja, Asaba, Benin, and Owerri.
AirInsight gathered that Azman has begun the move to correct the snags noticed by the NCAA that necessitated a clampdown. Operating airlines, it has been learned, are strategizing on how to maximize the opportunity offered by Azman Air’s situation; deploying more airplanes while there seems to be a glut on many of the routes like Abuja, Lagos, Asaba, Port-Harcourt, Kano, and Owerri.
Virtually all the existing airlines operate the ‘popular and lucrative’ routes amid dwindling passenger traffic and poor purchasing power of many Nigerians; a situation that highlights very few Nigerians travel by air. Statistics from the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in 2019 put domestic air travel at nearly 11 million passengers shows that less than six percent of a population of nearly 200 million traveled by air.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the situation and put Nigeria’s airlines in dire straits. The sector is heading into ‘northern winter,’ traditionally when demand is lower and yields weaker. This year, there is greater economic uncertainty. The operating and financial environment could see more market exits.
President, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Nigeria, Mr. Alex Nwuba said that generally, everybody concentrates on Lagos, Abuja, and Port-Harcourt which is said to be Nigeria’s “triangular route”. Mr. Nwuba further stated that what Azman did was to cleverly branch off to other popular Northern routes, saying that made the carrier popular on the routes. His words, “The question now remains that those routes that they operate, if you leave them, who serves them? On the route they share with Air Peace, clearly, Air Peace can go in there. In the Northern part, they all like Azman. It is now left for Air Peace to pick up on that. If you look at it, the Northern part is where Arik is strong but it is unfortunately down to one aircraft and with Aero having its issues and with Azman out of the route. They are very popular on the routes; it gives them additional capacity on those routes”.
Mr. Nwuba who was a former Chief Executive Officer of Associated Airlines, asked, “Do the airlines have the assets available to go to the routes they were not flying before? It is not so easy now because there is serious unavailability of aircraft and that is where the problem is”. He disclosed that the market is constrained by the number of available aircraft despite new entrants that enter the industry. “They have opportunities where Azman has exited, either to capitalize on it or maximize it. We have new entrants like United Nigeria that have the capacity, would they have the capacity to operate to Maiduguri and so on?”