Two decades ago, most Nigerian airlines have access to only old aircraft that have limit of validity issues and most of them are at the end of their economic useful life.
Although, the recommended age for an aircraft for scheduled airline operations in Nigeria is about 20 years but many airlines have been operating aircraft of 20, 30 years of age and above at one time or the other.
The implications are that, high fleet age across the industry leads to high, unsustainable maintenance costs; pressing safety concerns and again, with old aircraft, airlines are too small to achieve any economies of scale in fleet renewal.
In addition to the factors mentioned above, leasing companies are said to charge very high risk premium on their Nigerian and African Airline leases.
In terms of maintenance, the old aircraft have a shorter maintenance interval than the new aircrafts. They also cost more to maintain. For instance, a minor check on 737 Classic, otherwise known as A-Check takes about 500 FH while 737NG Prior MPD takes 90 days or 560 FC. The 737 MAX however, takes 120 days for such checks.
For major checks, otherwise known as C-checks, 737 Classic takes 24 months or 6000 FH. While 737NG Prior MPD takes 24 months or 7,500 FH or 5,500 FC; the 737 Max takes 36 months or 15,000 FH or 6,600 FC to undergo such checks.
Speaking at a forum recently, a former managing director of the defunct Virgin Nigeria, Capt Dapo Olumide, said airlines fail in the country because operators refused to invest in new airplanes.
Stating that the cost of maintaining new aircraft is lower than for older ones, Capt. Olumide said “Globally for instance, airlines are replacing old aircraft with newer ones that are fuel efficient. The world no longer uses old aircraft but dump them on developing countries. When you operate an old aircraft, your cost of maintenance rises,” he explained.
Olumide noted that for airlines to survive, operators needed to also invest more in manpower development; explore international windows for aircraft financing by looking at 20-year financing model for instance; explore export credit agencies’ guaranteed loans; and take advantage of open skies agreements, which stimulate competition.
Aviation expert, Mr. Tunde Fagbemi, while speaking at the fourth quarter Business Breakfast Meeting organized by Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative recently (ASRTI) also stated that the old aircraft used by African airlines cannot be utilised as well as the new aircraft.
This, he said leads to a loss in revenue due to longer Aircraft on Ground (AOG) periods for the old aircraft.
Fagbemi therefore, advised airline operators to try as much as possible to invest in new aircraft so as to make their operations efficient.
Meanwhile, domestic airlines operating in the country are gradually departing from older aircraft to relatively new ones.
Also speaking at the ASRTI meeting, chief executive of Overland Airways, Captain Edward Boyo said that the average age of aircraft operating in Nigeria by airlines is about 15 to 20 years presently.
Noting that airline operation in Nigeria was not for the weak in heart, Boyo said hubs are supposed to be created by local operators and not foreign airlines.
The airline operator said “the challenges domestic airlines face are caused by Nigerians, we encounter delays because of the hostile environment and here you cannot run an airline without being politically savvy.
Boyo also said, part of the reasons why Virgin Nigeria failed is because they superimposed foreign mentality into the system, pointing out that airlines are meant to be self-regulatory entities.
Nevertheless, Nigeria’s largest airline operator, Air Peace with a fleet of about 30 aircraft is departing from the use of ageing aircraft for its operations.
Only recently, the airline acquired 4 B777 with 10 B737Max on order.
Similarly, Medview has also acquired B777 and B767, while Azman Air recently received an Airbus 340.