Nigeria has the lowest propensity to fly among all countries. This is a paradox of some sorts, given that the geography, as well as demographic profile in Nigeria, favors air travel. The country has a working population of over 80 million, which, in addition to the fact that there are substantial inter-city distances, should favor the propensity to travel by air (PTF ). So let’s have a look at why Nigerians seem reluctant to fly.
The low Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita probably provides some explanation for the low propensity to travel. But then Pakistan has a lower GDP per capita and manages to record a higher PTF than Nigeria.
Tickets are more expensive in Nigeria
Airfares are said to be on the high side. The highest traffic route in the country, Lagos-Abuja had an average price of N40.000 from N25.000 pre-COVID-19 per passenger flight hour. This translates to about $80 at the current rate. Meanwhile, flights on the Boeing 737-500 and -700 series in western countries offer $45 per passenger flight hour.
The higher fares are also the result of another trend in Africa: infrastructure services are twice as expensive as elsewhere. This is not peculiar to air transport: power, water, road freight, mobile telephones, and internet services also mirror the same trend.
There are also fewer active domestic airlines in Nigeria. According to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the country has 24 airports, over 20 aerodromes, and over 30 regulated airstrips and heliports; 34 domestic airlines; over 600 licensed pilots, licensed engineers, and 2,000 cabin personnel. Nigeria is an important destination for over 25 foreign carriers and currently has Bilateral Air Services Agreements with over 80 countries.
Domestic travel forms 70 percent of all traffic
During the 2008-2017 period, 139 million passengers flew through Nigeria’s airports, 100 million of these were domestic passengers, while the rest were international passengers. Domestic passengers formed over 70 percent of passenger traffic during the period. Growth in domestic passenger traffic ranged from -14 percent in 2017 to as high as +39 percent. It has increased yearly until 2020 when COVID-19 broke out leading to a drastic cut in air traffic.
Nigerian airlines are small, with fleet sizes as low as three for some airlines. The actual market is equally small. Although the market potential exists along several under-utilized air corridors, small airlines do not permit them to explore these potential routes. Airlines may not be able to break even given the low load factors that are likely to exist on such routes. Small size carriers also constrain capacity to offer frequencies and compete on regional and international routes. Nigerian airlines are therefore not strong players in the international and regional markets.
Confidence in safety is low
There’s another explanation why Nigerians seem reluctant to fly: safety. Despite the tremendous work the NCAA has done in the area of safety, customer confidence in Nigerian airlines is another reason air travel demand is low. The public impression isn’t reflected by facts here. Although there have been two fatal accidents involving two Beechcraft aircraft of the Nigerian Air Force in February and March in which 18 people were killed, the last fatal incident involving a commercial aircraft was back in October 2013. According to Aviation Safety Network data, there have been 52 fatal accidents in Nigeria since 1919 in which 1.514 people have been killed.