12 December 2o16, Abuja – 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.
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.