High fuel cost, matter of grave concern to airlines – Obiora Okonkwo

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*L-R: The director of administration, United Nigeria Airline (Mr. Linus Awute; chairman/chief executive officer, Mr. Obiora Okonkwo; chief operating officer, Mr. Osita Okonkwo and director of flight operations, Capt Chimara Imediegwu, during the airline’s press conference in Lagos.

The chairman and managing director of United Nigeria Airlines (UNA), Mr. Obiora Okonkwo has expressed grave concern about the high cost of aviation fuel saying it would impact on the airfare.

Addressing the League of Airport and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC) in Lagos on Wednesday, Okonkwo said with constant increase in the price of JET A1, one should expect airfare to go up as well.

“If you look at the operational cost in the aviation industry no amount will be too much to pay for a ticket. Sometimes you fly full load and return empty. We started operations at N160 per litre (of aviation fuel). When you move from N160 to N270 one should expect that the minimum ticket component to be 50 per cent increase,” he said.

He advised air travellers to take advantage of online booking for cheap flight fares.

On the airline’s operations so far, Okonkwo said the carrier had not fared badly.

“It might surprise you to know that the evening we got our Air Operators Certificate (AOC) we opened our portal and the first flight within 12 hours we had full passenger load,” he added.

He also said the carrier transports 3, 200 passengers weekly and that in the first four weeks of its operations, it ferried 25, 000 passengers.

Commenting on the airline’s plans, Okonkwo said the carrier would consolidate on the domestic market before launching regional operations with twin-aisle aircraft.

 “UNA plans to consolidate on the domestic operations with the ERJ 145 aircraft and later do long-haul with more wide body aircraft.

“The Nigerian market is huge but unfortunately we underestimate our ability and potential. We want to be customer-centric.

“The growth we want to achieve and enjoy will be within our capacity. We have assembled a great team; the airline is wholly owned and managed by Nigerians. Airlines have come and gone. We have lots of lessons to learn. We are processing every step that will take us to our destination,” he said.

On job creation, Okonkwo said the airline had already created opportunities for employment adding that as the business expands and the carrier acquires additional equipment, more people will be engaged.

Meanwhile, he said 50-60 per cent of the airline’s staff are cutting their teeth in aviation.

On fleet expansion, Okonkwo said: “We are negotiating to increase our fleet. We are also considering acquiring wide-body aircraft because our current aircraft have limitations in terms of luggage capacity.”

On the airline’s choice of Embraer 145 aircraft, Okonkwo said the equipment are fuel-efficient.

However, he said what the Embraer aircraft series have as advantages are lost in terms of the number of passengers and space for cargo, hence the need for bigger aircraft in the near future.

“The ERJ 145 is a good fuel efficient aircraft and we are negotiating an additional two Embraer. We will use them to consolidate on our entire routes. After that we go for a bigger aircraft.

“We have gone through due diligence before we earmarked the ERJ as choice of aircraft and the fuel utilization is a huge advantage,” he said.

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