Airlines groan under the weight of aviation fuel scarcity

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Nigerian domestic air travellers no longer know what they will meet at the airports, as a one-hour flight now takes more than six hours and even days due to fuel scarcity that hits the airlines and results in delayed, rescheduled or cancelled flights
At the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 2, popularly called MMA2, the general aviation terminal both in Lagos and some other airports across the country, it is not uncommon to see passengers pulling long faces.
Not because they have to pay new airport charges or that the cost of air travel has increased. They are made to wear such look because their flights are delayed for hours or rescheduled or cancelled outright sometimes without the airline(s) feeling any compunction about their (passengers’) convenience.
The airlines said in an interview that flight delays, rescheduling or cancellations are not deliberate. They explained that they do not derive pleasure in taking such actions and blamed the situation on acute shortage of aviation fuel or Jet A1.
What is surprising about the protracted scarcity of aviation fuel, known as Jet A1 is that it was deregulated, just as Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) commonly called diesel and Dual Purpose Kerosene (DPK). Yet, since the fuel scarcity that paralysed economic activities in the country, AGO has been available, whereas Jet A1 has been scarce.
Blueprint learnt that the current scarcity is caused by inability of the JET A1 marketers to source for dollars to import the product.
The executive secretary of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Obafemi Olawole, said the current rate of N320 to a dollar, which banks offer oil marketers had discouraged importers from bringing in the commodity. With storage facilities almost dried up, he said scarcity was inevitable.
Blueprint gathered that the product sells for as much as N180 or more per litre in Lagos and between N195 and N200  in places like Owerri, Calabar, Uyo, Abuja, Kano and some other places.
Blueprint learnt that even the little fuel that is available does not go round and a disagreement between an airline and fuel marketer could linger for hours and result in flight disruption.
It was gathered that even in situations in which an airline paid for the supply of the product, it would get less than the quantity demanded. In some cases, such an airline may not get any supply because the dealer has run out of stock.
It was found that Arik Air, for instance, needs an average of 500,000 litres of Jet A1 daily and 3.5 million litres weekly. Some other carriers like Dana, Air Peace, Med-View, Overland, and Aero also need about 350,000 litres of fuel each on a daily basis.
“We give an oil marketer money to get us fuel and they said please hold your money, we cannot give you more than a certain quantity. Money is not the issue,” said an airline chief executive.
Med-View Airline’s executive director of operations, Mr. Lookman Animashuan said although the airline had an agreement with its marketers, it would only last so long as its marketer has the product.
He said though the airline was buying the product at exorbitant price, it (airline) had airline not cancelled or delayed any flight as a result of the scarcity and “will not do so in the next couple of weeks so long as the product is made available by the marketers even at the current high rate.”
On its part, Arik Air confessed that it had been unable to continue flying unhindered as the unavailability of the product had led to flight disruption.
Spokesman for the airline, Mr. Adebanji Ola said in a press statement issued in Lagos that since the beginning of the year, Nigeria has been grappling with inadequate supply of aviation fuel leading in most cases to severe shortage of the product and consequently the disruption of flight operations.
“For the past week, the airline had to face another round of aviation fuel scarcity which got worse over (last) weekend leading to many flight delays and cancellations,” he said.
He added that the airline operates an average of 120 daily flights and requires about 500,000 liters of fuel daily.
Due to the large number of domestic and international flights, it is the most impacted by the inability of oil marketers to meet its daily fuel requirements on a timely and consistent basis.
“This has forced the airline to postpone flights while waiting for the fuel marketers to source and deliver the product. On many occasions, despite all efforts in engaging the marketers if fuel could not be sourced, the flights may eventually be cancelled causing not only revenue loss for the airline but also inconveniencing or stranding the passengers,” he said.
Making a case for the fuel marketers, Ola added: “Arik Air has identified supply and infrastructural challenges of the marketers as some of the key factors responsible for the epileptic supply of aviation fuel. At the root of the fuel supply crisis is low stock due to the inability of marketers to source for the foreign exchange to import more Jet A1 fuel into the country.
“There is also a distribution challenge as the discharging of vessels bringing Jet A1 and other petroleum products are done in the same jetty and loading various trucks for distribution to cities like Kano or Abuja takes considerable effort and time. The situation in the north is even more difficult since the product takes longer to be delivered due to the trucking distance. Oil marketers have also resorted to trucking of aviation fuel to the airports because hydrants are not consistently available at the airports.”
“While the federal government and oil marketers are working hard to address the supply and distribution challenges, we appeal to our guests to bear with us as they may experience flights delays and cancellations because of the prevailing scarcity of aviation fuel across the country. Marketers have assured that the situation would improve this week as they are expecting delivery of additional stock.
He said the airline was working on a longer term plan which would be finalized in the coming months to mitigate the situation and to be in a better position to address such supply shortages and flight disruption.
The chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Nogie Meggison, said the price of fuel had remained unstable for some time.
Worried by the unavailability of the product, Meggison called on the federal government to revive the Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) refinery in Warri, Delta State, fix the pipelines supplying aviation fuel to the airport as well as ensure that it revived Atlas Cove and Mosimi pipelines which supply aviation fuel.
Meggison said when the pipelines were working at full capacity they supplied aviation fuel to the airport uninterrupted. The facilities, he added, were shut in 1996 by the military government.
Pumping fuel using pipelines and hydrant, the AON boss argued, is safer and cost effective compared to the use of tankers and fuel bowsers.
Hitherto, he said Nigeria used hydrant both at the defunct Nigeria Airways apron, the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), the international and cargo ramps to supply aviation fuel to airlines.
The chief executive of Belujane Konzult, Mr. Chris Aligbe consoled the domestic carriers saying they were losing huge revenue.
He said the scarcity would affect their profitability and liquidity stressing that aircraft should be in the air and anytime the aircraft is on ground the airline incurs losses.
“No airline is finding this comfortable and it is affecting all the airlines; government is also not finding it comfortable and as the scarcity continues the airlines will be put in a situation that they will need some cushioning from government in order to sustain their operations,” he added.
Aligbe said airline business is critical because the movers and shakers of the economy have to travel by air and urged all the actors to do their utmost to stop the scarcity because both the passengers and the carrier are suffering.

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