Almost one year after the federal government reopened Nigeria’s airspace to international travel after the Covid-19 lockdown, air travel has remained at 40 per cent of 2019 levels, data gathered by THISDAY have revealed.
The government reopened the airspace on September 5, 2020 to international flights.
Data obtained from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) indicated that in the last quarter of 2019, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, recorded 1, 031, 977 international passenger movement. But in the same period in 2020, passenger movement declined to 440, 275 and further decreased to 157, 689 between January and June 2021.
At the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, FAAN recorded 307, 906 arrivals and 338, 607 departures, bringing it to a total of 646, 513 passengers from January to June 2021.
Conversely, in the same period in 2019, FAAN recorded 713, 707 arrivals and 773,502 departures, making it a total of 1, 487, 209, from the Lagos International Airport.
Further review of the data revealed that international passenger movement at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, in 2020 was 1, 046, 568 as against the 3, 202, 837 recorded in 2019.
At the end of 2019, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport recorded total passenger movement of 17, 761, 455, comprising domestic and international, as against 9, 426, 297 recorded in 2020, reflecting the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on air transport.
Reacting to the development, experts explained that despite the reopening of the Nigerian airspace for international flights in September last year, there were still countries not allowing in-bound travel due to COVID-19.
“Nigeria opened its airspace, but there were restrictions in many countries, which were not allowing non-citizens into their airspace and the few that allowed foreigners had stringent conditions that were not easy to meet,” said travel expert and organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ikechi Ukoh.
Ukoh also explained that leisure travel, such as Nigerians going on holiday and visiting relations accounted for most traffic out of the country, while others were for business. He said leisure travel accounted for about 70 per cent of all outbound travel from Nigeria in 2019, stating that in 2020 to 2021, leisure travel was not opened in many countries.
Ukoh said Johannesburg, which is popular destination for Nigerians, was also partially closed last year. He pointed out that hiccups in the processing of passport and the high cost of the product, followed by the suspension of passport production also affected international travel from Nigeria.
He said many Nigerians who arrived the country and wanted to renew their passports and travel back to their countries of residence became stranded because of the delays in the production of passports.
According to Ukoh, “We reopened our airspace in September, but did we really reopen? How many places could Nigerians travel to? So those who travelled were those who had compelling need to travel.
“Most traffic out of Nigeria was leisure. About 60 to 70 per cent of outbound passenger traffic in 2019 comprised those who travelled for leisure and religious obligation. In 2020 and 2021, these destinations were not open to Nigerians, so those who wanted to travel did not travel.
“London is another major destination to Nigerians. UK was partially open and the US was also not easy to access, especially with visa issues, as it became difficult to book appointment for visa.”
However, Managing Director of Finchglow Travels and immediate past President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bankole Bernard, told THISDAY that despite the slow progress compared to 2019, air travel was beginning to pick up gradually.
Bernard said the aviation industry was coming alive again.
He said, “Although with numerous challenges, like devaluation of the Naira that has made the cost of ticket to go up, restriction in most countries due to health risks, and countries taking comparative advantage over others are factors affecting air travel at this time,”.
Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Nigeria and other African countries lost $7.7 billion in 2020 to restrictions put in place by governments to combat the spread of COVID-19.
IATA’s regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East, Kamil Alawadi, disclosed that seven million employees suffered as a result, while eight airlines went bankrupt in Africa.