Nigeria: Poor Scheduling As Bane of Nigerian Airlines

Air travel in Nigeria is beset by delays caused by many factors, which include weather, breakdown of aircraft, poor airport facilities and poor scheduling.

Poor scheduling is problem of airlines, which can be averted with efficient schedule arrangement and maintenance.

In Nigeria there is also poor aircraft utilisation because the system and infrastructure guarantee limited period of time in a day to fly. Airlines can fly till midnight from Abuja to Lagos, but they cannot fly to many other airports because either those airports do not have airfield lighting or there is insecurity.

So even if it is possible, airlines cannot schedule flights late to Port Harcourt, Owerri, Kaduna and even Benin due to security concerns.

But if an airline properly schedules its rotations in the day, it would minimize delays and flight cancelations.

THISDAY spoke to the former Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Captain Fola Akinkuotu, who said schedule and maintenance were very crucial to an airline and determines its operation success, revenue earnings and utilisation of aircraft.

In order to mitigate flight delays and cancellation, airlines can keep aircraft on standby in case if anyone in operation suffer bird strike, engine failure or even undercarriage problem. Once any of the aircraft in the fleet is grounded for any reason, the one on standby would be deployed.

But Akinkuotu noted that it might not be practically realistic to keep aircraft on standby while it generates expenses, instead of operating and earning revenue with it. He suggested that while an airline could maximiseeach aircraft in its fleet, it could reduce routing of one of the aircraft so that it could be on standby, but it is a waste of resources to keep airworthy aircraft on ground from morning till night.

“What you have to look at is this. Liken this situation to owning vehicles. If you have 10 vehicles you pay insurance, vehicle licence, roadworthiness and others. These are standard expenses. If you bought that vehicle on higher purchase you will still be paying for it whether it is parked or not.

“In airline, you have 10 aircraft and you keep one on ground, you continue to pay for its insurance. If you leased the aircraft you will still be paying for the lease. You pay for all these while the aircraft is on ground. So you are not using the aircraft maximally.

“In scheduling you may reduce the rotation of one of the aircraft. For example, if you have 10 Boeing and each one operates eight rotation, you may have one that will do four rotations; so that when you have disruptions, you can deploy it to replace the one that has broken down,” he said.

Akinkuotu said it does not make sense to keep one aircraft as spare because the airline will be losing revenue. But an airline can keep engine as spare if it can afford it; so if there is incident like bird strike, the airline can replace the engine, depending on the damage.

“It does not make economic sense to rest an aircraft, but you can minimize its utilisation,” he said.

He said that flight scheduling contributes to delays and cancellation; that is why scheduling is a very important job, remarking that good schedule plan must envisage possible disruptions and plan the schedule accordingly.

Akinkuotu said that having more aircraft benefits an airline because it maximizes its personnel and an airline ought to have more aircraft for robust profitable operation, suggesting that to maximise economy of scale, an airline ought to have about 13 aircraft.

The former Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) also said that if a schedule plan were done very well it would pre-empt a situation where aircraft in the fleet is taken out for maintenance so it would plan to cover the absence of that aircraft.

“For example, if you have four aircraft and one is taken out for maintenance, there are two options; either you reschedule your flights or you lease an aircraft on short term to cover that slot. Ibom Air did something like that recently when its aircraft went for maintenance; it leased aircraft to cover the operations of that aircraft. But what is important here is knowing that the aircraft is going for maintenance and rescheduling your operations.

“So you plan for the maintenance. Your engineers have the slot card, you secure slot with your maintenance company and ferry your aircraft there. If you don’t have efficient schedule plan, you will be in trouble. Schedule and maintenance is a critical department Nigeria Airways Limited,” Akinkuotu told THISDAY.

Many industry observers say that many Nigerian airlines do not have efficient schedulers and therefore inefficient schedule plan and that has contributed to some of the delays encountered in their operations.

They noted that it is through proper scheduling that Nigerian airlines can efficiently service the daylight airports, which in many occasions have forced airlines to cancel flights when they realised they cannot operate to these airports after 6:00 pm.

They also observed that flights are tightly stuck together because airlines in Nigeria generally operate 6:00 a to 6:00 pm. After that period it is only Abuja-Lagos, Kano-Lagos; Abuja-Kano that can continue to operate, as THISDAY observed on Monday that flight operations continues into the night in Abuja till after 11:00 pm, but almost all the flights were destined to Lagos and Kano.