What Arik Air’s Suspension Meant For Nigeria
25 September 2012
VENTURES AFRICA – The transport network of Africa’s most populous nation was left in limbo last week as Arik Air, Nigeria’s biggest airline, suspended domestic flights for four consecutive days. The suspension – which took most aviation analysts by surprise – came just months after the Nigerian federal government attempted to remove petrol subsidies, sparking national unrest that brought roads and airports to a halt.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s other two main airlines are in dire straits: Dana Air has seen bookings collapse following a June plane crash that killed 160 people, while the former national carrier Air Nigeria has collapsed under a mountain of debt and ceased operations altogether.
The all-pervading chaos in Nigeria’s transport sector is peculiar, given that this is the country which offers Africa’s greatest aviation opportunities. Airline passenger numbers have seen double-digit growth every year for almost a decade and, for newcomers, there is little quality competition among market incumbents, who continue to operate ancient, unsafe and unreliable aircraft.
Ostensibly, this is an environment ripe for growth. But while Ghana – a much smaller and less populous country – now has five airlines, and while South Africa has enjoyed lower fares and higher quality thanks to a huge proliferation of domestic low-cost carriers, Nigeria remains bereft. Open for investment?