Nigerian airlines are turning to smaller aircraft due to their fuel economy and ability to accommodate compact passengers in some short distance routes, Daily Trust reports.
However, this comes with its challenge of maintenance with operators calling on manufacturers to set up Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities in Nigeria.
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Local carriers have largely been operating with bigger Boeing aeroplanes, which according to them is too costly to maintain in addition to high fuel consumption.
The Boeing series has the capacity to carry between 150 passengers or more depending on the configuration but operators contend that just like they are bigger in size, they are also expensive to maintain especially in the absence of a strong MRO facility.
The operating expense is further exasperated when there are not enough passengers to fill the planes.
But the operating dynamics are changing with operators exploring the smaller and more fuel-efficient planes.
Air Peace, Nigeria’s biggest airline, is driving this with the acquisition of Embraer aircraft starting with E145; eight of which are in its fleet.
It then followed this up with the acquisition of 13 E195-E2s with additional 17 purchase rights.
The airline took delivery of the first of the aircraft penultimate week and the second one is being expected any moment from now making the airline the first to receive the brand new aircraft in Africa.
Apart from Air Peace, Overland has pioneered the use of smaller aeroplanes with its Dash-8 series while Ibom Air also started with Bombardier aircraft with about 70-passenger capacity.
The United Nigeria, another indigenous carrier, which is expected to commence operations soon from its Enugu base is starting with ERJ145.
Another airline, Cally Air, which is a proposed joint venture between the Cross River State Government and Dana Group is to commence operations soon with Dash-8 aircraft, another small, low-age and fuel-efficient plane.
But stakeholders said with more airlines embracing the smaller aircraft type, there was the need to have a maintenance base in Nigeria.
While taking delivery of the aircraft, Chairman of Air Peace, Mr Allen Onyema echoed the call on Embraer, the Brazilian manufacturer to establish a maintenance base in Nigeria.
An aviation expert, Capt. Alex Nwuba, said the maintenance support from the manufacturers is essential otherwise, there would be challenges of “viability and reliability.”
He said though Embraer has a maintenance base in Kenya, East Africa, it would be good if they consider such in Nigeria, which could serve other West African countries.
The Chief Executive Officer – Mainstream Cargo Limited, Seyi Adewale, advised airlines to explore aircraft that have better fuel efficiency and are able to reduce their operating cost since over 50 per cent of the operating cost goes into fuelling.