Airlines raise fares with travellers’ upsurge

• Royal Air Maroc in emergency landing

OWING to the Easter season and as thousands of travellers are making desperate moves to be with their relations, there are indications that airlines have been forced to raise flight rates to grapple with the upsurge of passengers.

Most of the country’s major airports in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano are witnessing influx of passengers.

Meanwhile, Air Maroc Thursday suffered damage to one of its engines and was forced to make emergency return to the Lagos airport, 10 minutes after take-off.     One of the engines was hit by birds in what is generally known in aviation as ‘bird strike’.

A bird strike – sometimes called avian ingestion (only if in an engine), bird hit, is a collision between an airborne animal (usually a bird or bat and a human-made vehicle, especially aircraft.

Bird strikes are a significant threat to flight safety and have caused a number of accidents with human casualties.

Most accidents occur when the bird hits the windscreen or flies into the engines. These cause annual damages that have been estimated at $400 million within the United States of America alone and up to $1.2 billion to commercial aircraft worldwide.

A typical bird strike could affect the aircraft’s nose; that is the cone where the radar is. This costs about $400,000; it could destroy the engine, where you have the turbine blade, the thrust and the boroscope. It could affect the windscreen, which is $10,000. It can affect the airframe and that could take the aircraft out for about two weeks.

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“Each time there is a bird strike, the airline loses about $260,000 of revenue and on cost of repairs,” a source said.

Overall, Nigerian airline operators estimated their losses to between N200 million and N300 million in the past six years as a result of bird strikes.

The Guardian learnt that the Boeing aircraft, which was said to have departed the airport at 7:00 am to Casablanca, Morocco, returned to base barely 10 minutes in the air.

The aircraft was said to be carrying over 100 passengers when the incident occurred.

Sources said immediately the strike occurred, the pilot was said to have contacted the control tower in Lagos and requested for an emergency landing, which was quickly given by the Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) on duty.

As at 5 p.m. yesterday, the airplane was still on ground, as the airline would need to take the engines for repairs as some of the blades inside the engine compartment had been damaged.

The passengers were, however, lodged in a hotel, pending when another aircraft would be deployed to airlift them to the North African country.

Air Morocco operates four flights to Lagos weekly: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

A source close to the airline said that the passengers would eventually depart the country tomorrow to Morocco.

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At the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, passengers were struggling to get the seats on the few available airlines, just as fares kept rising. However, operators are denying increase in fares, especially as the airlines have earlier announced increased capacity to do more flights during this festive period.

Again, touts, in connivance with airlines, are contributing to the fare increase for desperate travellers, who are only interested in getting to their destinations.

Aviation watchers, however, warned that doing more flights and over-stretching the limit of an airline, crew, and personnel portend danger for the aviation industry.

An hour flight to places like Abuja and Port Harcourt now hit over N40, 000.

A visit to the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Lagos airport shows that one of the leading airlines may have capitalised on demand to hike its fares.

Passengers were seen milling around at the terminal as they struggled to purchase tickets, as demand far outweighs supply. It was obvious that virtually all the airlines found it very difficult to cope with capacity following the suspension of flights by Aero, one of the biggest players in the industry.  The crisis with Aero over labour disputes has made it tougher for other airlines as Aero offers huge route network across the country, while many others, apart from Arik, operate fewer routes.

A passenger, who identified himself as Afolabi Jones, said he had been at the old terminal since 9 a.m. yesterday but could not secure a seat on any airline. He contemplated travelling to Abuja by road to be with his family.

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He equally decried the attitude of some of the carriers by hiking air fares because of the Easter season and capitalising on the fact that there were fewer airlines.

People were seen hanging around the terminal, as the entire vicinity was chaotic with cars full to capacity, and traffic stretching to the access road.

At the MMA2, not much activity was seen as Aero Contractor, which controls about 65 per cent operations in the area, remains out of service.

But other airlines like IRS, Dana, and Medview are equally smiling to the banks as they offer more services to different destinations.

Those who could not afford the high fares have decided to take to road, which fares have also skyrocketed.

The roads are no better options, considering the fact that most roads in Nigeria are in a terrible state of disrepair, riddled with potholes that have claimed so many lives.

At the different motor parks in Jibowu and Ojota garages, fares, to mostly Eastern parts of the country, have almost doubled from average of N4,000 to between N7,000 and N8,000.

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