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Hundreds of air travellers were on Thursday stranded at the Lagos airport following the grounding of Chanchangi and IRS airlines by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority for having only one operational aircraft each in their fleets.
With the earlier suspension of flight operations of two other domestic carriers, Dana Air and Associated Airlines, air travels to destinations within the country have become increasingly difficult, thereby leaving potential passengers at the mercy of the few available operators, who have capitalised on the situation to hike fares.
Our correspondent observed many desperate passengers milling around the counters of the few airlines in operation and scrambling to get seats on the available planes at both the General Aviation Terminal and Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 2 of the Lagos airport.
The situation resulted in a marginal increase in airfares to various destinations in the country.
For instance, Aerocontractors’ Lagos to Abuja flight, which cost between N18,000 and N22,000, attracted N28,000 on Thursday afternoon.
A flight ticket to Abuja from Lagos on Medview Airlines sold for between N25,500 and N30,000 depending on the time of flight, instead of the average of N18,000 previously, while Arik Air ticket on the same route sold for N35,000.
The PUNCH had exclusively reported on Thursday that the NCAA had grounded the operations of Chanchangi and IRS Airlines because each of them had only one operational aircraft.
It was gathered by our correspondent on Thursday that the grounded airlines were awaiting the NCAA audit, a necessary step before they can be allowed to operate commercial flights again.
Associated Airlines was suspended on October 5 following a crash involving its chartered aircraft on October 3 that killed 15 people out of the 20 on board.
Also, the IRS Airline was grounded after its plane with about 92 passengers on board made an emergency landing at the Kaduna airport as a result of hydraulic failure.
Dana Air’s operations were similarly grounded on October 6 for what the NCAA described as “operational audit.”
Currently, there are only four domestic airlines in operation with 38 aircraft as against 56 early this year, with Arik Air having 24 aircraft for both domestic and international flight operations; Medview, four; and Aero, 10.
When asked by our correspondent how soon the airline hoped to resume operations, the spokesperson for Dana, Mr. Tony Usidamen, said he could not say for now.
He said, “The status quo remains. We have been expecting the external consultants that are supposed to conduct the audit to come around, but up until now, we have yet to hear anything from them.
“As I speak with you, we have not had any official information from the authorities on how soon things will change; and so, we are still awaiting word from them and are still complying with their directives.”
This is the third time that Dana’s operations will be suspended since its plane crashed on June 3, 2012 in Lagos, killing about 153 passengers on board and 10 people on the ground.
It was grounded between June 5, 2012 and January 3, 2013 and again in the middle of this year.
The Assistant General Secretary, Airline Operators of Nigeria, Alhaji Muhammed Tukur, confirmed that IRS Airline had not been flying for some time now.
He said the NCAA had claimed that the airline could not function properly with only one aircraft.
Tukur said, “The truth is that IRS has more than one aircraft, the only thing is that the other one is currently undergoing C check abroad.
“I don’t think the NCAA is going the right way in this; what it should do is to ensure that the schedule of the functional aircraft is made in such a way as to ensure that it is not overburdened, because it is not good for the system for only very few airlines to be in operation.”