Intending air travellers within the country during the Easter holiday period may be in for a tough time because of a looming scarcity of flights to different destinations following the suspension of operations by Aerocontractors Airlines, the second largest domestic airline by passenger traffic.
Internal labour crises have left Aero grounded for almost two weeks. The airline’s management is battling almost 1,300 employees over alleged poor condition of service among other related issues.
The development has had an adverse effect on domestic air travel, which is currently dominated by Arik Air and Aero, in terms of large route network.
Already, passengers are facing hard times getting seats on the South-South and South-East routes operated by only Aero and Arik. Destinations on these routes are Benin, Calabar, Uyo, Owerri and Enugu.
Other domestic carriers such as Dana Air, IRS Airlines, Medview Airlines and Chanchagi Airlines operate from Lagos to Abuja and a few cities in the North.
Medview operates flights to only one South-South destination, Port Harcourt.
Intending passengers to the South-South and South-East regions were not getting seats easily on the available flights.
At the Lagos airport, majority of the intending passengers were forced to book for flights two days ahead, a departure from the former situation where they would get to the airport before buying tickets on their travel days.
Further findings revealed that passengers at Benin, Uyo, Calabar, Enugu and Owerri airports were also scrambling to get tickets. It was learnt that majority of them had been forced to postpone their flights.
Also, passengers flying to Accra in Ghana are also having hard times getting seats as the route, prior to the current crisis, was operated by both Arik and Aero.
The development has made airfares to start going up. Already, flights from Lagos to any of the South-East and South-South states, which used to cost a little less than N30,000, now go for about N35,000.
Also, return ticket between Lagos and Accra, which used to go for between N50,000 and N70,000, now go for between N90,000 and N100,000.
This is coming just as the hope of Aero resuming operations before the Easter holidays appears bleak, thereby threatening the hope of several passengers who had booked Aero flights online for the Easter season before the crisis.
Efforts to get the airline’s management to comment on the fate of such passengers did not yield results.
The Aero spokesman said the managing director was not available to comment on what the fate of such passengers would be.
But the Assistant General Secretary, Airline Operators of Nigeria, Alhaji Mohammed Tukur, said it was high time the government intervened in the labour crisis in Aero through the Minister of Labour.
He also alleged that some business interests were sponsoring the crises in the aviation sector, and that the government needed to investigate the various crises that had befallen the airlines.
Tukur said, “It is a very unfortunate situation at Aero at the moment. If you look at the way things are going, there are plans by some powerful interests to frustrate some airlines. Some people are benefiting from the crises in the sector. I only pity our brothers flying from overseas and Lagos to celebrate the Easter in the East and South-South.
“My advice is for the existing airlines to add frequencies to the South-South and South East routes so that they can help evacuate passengers during the Easter. I don’t see Aero coming back soon. I don’t know why the Aero management allowed this to happen to them.
“Some airlines benefited from bail-out but they are not flying today. I mean, some airlines got bail-out funds and closed shop. These are issues the government needs to look into because jobs have been lost.”
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority said it had intervened in the crisis in Aero and discussions were ongoing with the management of the airline. It, however, refused to comment on the fate of intending passengers who had bought Aero’s tickets for the Easter season.