Foreign airlines operating in Nigeria are panicking over current fuel shortage on the West African coast that may affect their operations especially as the Yuletide season beckons.
While Nigeria, which is the major market on the continent, is running short of supply to airlines, neighbouring Ghana that has lately become the aviation fuel hub for most airlines, is facing a similar challenge.
The Guardian yesterday learnt that the development was already a major source of concern to operations, as some airlines with Nigerian passengers have begun to make a detour in Libreville, Gabon, for fuel. Aviation sources say airlines may begin to ration flights to Nigeria during the festive season, especially when there is no guarantee of getting fuel in neighbouring countries for top-up — and this could frustrate business tourism by jacking up cost of domestic and international travels.
Aviation fuel, otherwise called Jet-A1, is a specialised type of petroleum-based product used to power aircraft and normally accounts for over 30 per cent of operation cost of an airline.
READ ALSO: Plane Crashes
In Nigeria, Jet-A1 is 100 per cent imported and subject to the vagaries of the foreign exchange market. In the last 12 months, aviation fuel has steadily climbed from N104 to N240 per litre in Lagos and as high as N270 in northern part of the country.
A foreign airline’s head of operations, who would not want to be named, told The Guardian that the hope of picking fuel from Kotoka International Airport in Ghana’s capital city of Accra, despite the extra cost, was dashed last week when the Ghanaian marketer could not supply the needed quantity.
He hinted that out of the 30,000 litres requested to top up for the long-haul flight, the marketer provided only 15,000 litres.
“We are becoming apprehensive because that is not a good sign at all,’"he said. “Without fuel, there are no flight services. In the last 12 months, there has been no fuel in Nigeria. The priority is not on aviation fuel but on Premium Motor Spirit (PMS). That is the truth. Despite efforts to plan ahead with your marketers, fuel shortage can just hit you in the face. No one wants to be in that dire situation.”
Regional Manager, North, West and Central Africa for South African Airways (SAA), Ohis Ehimiaghe, confirmed that development. But he gave the assurance that “South African Airways is here to stay in Nigeria.”
SAA is among airlines picking passengers in Nigeria but fueling in Ghana. He said that shortage could be expected “since all of us are queuing up in Ghana for fuel.”
Ghana’s government in July slashed the price of aviation fuel by 20 per cent as part of its plan to make Accra the West African hub for air travel. The price cut was attractive as most airlines began to fuel in Ghana.
The SAA official said that for long, airlines had been battling scarcity of Jet A1, noting that non-availability of the product for several months has done incalculable damage to their operations.
He added: “In the last two weeks, there has been total dryness of aviation fuel supply. We have to go to neighbouring countries, especially Ghana to lift fuel. Ghana is running dry of the commodity too. There are times when we have fuel in abundance but many times we don’t have at all.”
He said that finding an alternative airport to lift fuel does not only inconvenience an airline but also means additional operations cost.
“We are fortunate that South Africa Airways has huge operations in Ghana; so, it is easier to get our ground handling company and staff to service our operations quickly. Our Abuja flights have been flying by Libreville to lift fuel. This is an additional cost to our operations,” Ehimiaghe said.
Executive Secretary of Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Obafemi Olawole, said that the shortage could be blamed on difficulty in sourcing foreign exchange, often not available to importers at the interbank market rate.
Olawole said that its members were doing their best to make the product available in Nigeria, but did not have inadequate support from key government agencies.
Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had recently assured that scarcity of JET-A1 would soon end when government finalises work on Kaduna and Port-Harcourt refineries that would be dedicated solely to the refining of that fuel type.
Sirika said that the refining of the product in Nigeria would help to bring down the rising cost of aviation fuel.
Meanwhile, apex regulatory body, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), has suspended at least five cabin crew trainees for allegedly testing positive for Tetra Hydro Cannabinol (THC), a major active ingredient contained in marijuana.
NCAA, on account of the alleged drug-related offences, suspended medical certificates of the unnamed culprits for 180 days.
Spokesperson of the authority, Sam Adurogboye, said the five tested positive for marijuana during a Multi-drug Screening Test (MDST) conducted on participants of the Cabin Crew Training Basic Course – 30 (CCTB–30) at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) Zaria, Kaduna State on June 2, 2016.
Adurogboye said upon receipt of the test result from NCAT Zaria where they went for training before they got involved, NCAA issued a letter of investigation (LOI) to the affected crewmembers and they responded.
NCAA has also ordered them to undergo rehabilitation for psychoactive substance abuse under the strict supervision of a consultant psychiatrist at designated medical centres forthwith.
At the end of the rehabilitation, a report is expected to be forwarded in strict confidence by the medical centre to the NCAA for consideration of re–issuance of their medical certificate in accordance with the provisions of Part 184.108.40.206 (a) of the Nig. NCARs 2015.
He assured the travelling public that NCAA was very detailed in its oversight activities over the industry in the interest of safer skies in Nigeria and violations are viewed seriously.