Passenger traffic on the local route in Nigeria recorded at least 30 per cent drop in the first quarter of 2017.The significant plunge, compared to the same period in 2016, has been blamed on the recent temporary closure of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja and operational challenges by some airlines.

The drop in patronage implies loss in revenue for operators, regulators and returns that go to the government.This is coming at a time the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced a 6.8 per cent rise in global passenger traffic for March 2017, compared to the same month a year ago.

An executive summary on international and domestic flight operations for the First Quarter (Q1) released by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) showed a total of 10,366 flights operated compared to 15,434 flights operated in 2016.

Out of the 10,366 flights operated by eight local airlines in the first quarter, a total of 6,789 flights were delayed and 318 cancelled.About 26 international airlines also operated 3,033 number of flights, which is also a significant drop when compared with the first quarter of 2016.

Spokesperson of the NCAA, Sam Adurogboye, said the drop was not unconnected with the closure of NAIA for six-week rehabilitation of its runway.Adurogboye said though local airlines diverted to Kaduna International Airport, but not at full capacity. More so, none of the foreign airlines, except Ethiopian Airlines, reroute to Kaduna during the closure.

In the summary made available to The Guardian, Air Peace had the largest flights operations of 3,262, out of which 2,036 were delayed and 19 cancelled in the first quarter.

Arik Air operated a total of 1,665 flights, 1,059 delayed flights and 246 cancelled. Dana Air operated 1,525 flights with 1,017 delayed and five cancellations. Med-View operated 1,071 flights, delayed 752 and 22 cancelled.

The operators noted that the Abuja airport closure was indeed a difficult period for the airlines and passengers, but most challenging is the unfriendly environment for business, with perennial issues like aviation fuel shortage inadequate navigational aids at some airports and multiple charges.

Chairman of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Nogie Meggisson said there was need to create a more conducive environment for domestic airlines to thrive.

Meggisson said that Nigerian carriers were restricted to daylight operations in most airports in the country while airlines in other West African countries operate 24 hours.

IATA stated that African airlines continued to enjoy good demand in March, with traffic up 6.0 per cent compared to March 2016. Capacity rose 2.4 per cent, and load factor strengthened 2.3 percentage points to 68.2 per cent.

Notwithstanding fragility in the region’s biggest economies (Nigeria and South Africa), traffic growth has strengthened in recent months with demand, measured in Revenue Passenger Kilometers (RPKs), growing at an annualized pace of nearly 10 per cent since mid-2016.

This pick-up reflects a combination of faster growth on the key market to and from Europe, and also between Africa and the Middle East.

 This post was first published on Guardian.