The 2023 hajj fare may further rise due to extra flight hours to be incurred by bypassing Sudan airspace to connect with Saudi Arabia, Daily Trust reports.
The Sudan airspace, the shortest route from sub-Saharan Africa to Saudi Arabia, is shut as a result of the ongoing conflict in the country.
Flight to Saudi Arabia from Nigeria is about four and a half hours from northern Nigeria and five hours from the southern part with the aircraft flying mostly over Sudanese airspace after Chad.
Six domestic airlines yesterday rejected the earlier quoted airfare for the 2023 hajj as they refused to sign a letter of agreement with the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) over the Sudan crisis.
The airlines include Air Peace, Azman Air, Max Air and Aero Contractors.
The signing of the airlift agreement scheduled for Thursday was postponed till Tuesday next week as the airlines requested consultations from their superiors.
However, the only foreign airline among them, FlyNas, signed the agreement as it was allocated over 28,000 slots, amounting to 40 per cent of the Nigerian pilgrims.
Speaking after the event held in Abuja, NAHCON’s commissioner in charge of operations, Magaji Hardawa, said the development is posing a threat to the conduct of the 2023 hajj.
He said in a bid to reduce the airfare for pilgrims, the federal government had agreed to remove 65 per cent of all aviation-related charges for the airlines.
He added that FlyNas already has a different package as their participation in the airlift of Nigerian pilgrims is subject to a bilateral agreement between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
Domestic airlines’ concerns over airfare
NAHCON last month capped hajj fare at N2.9 million though the state pilgrims’ agencies later increased the sum to N3.2 million.
The participating airlines had quoted $1,783 (N823,746.00) and $2,026 (N936,012.00) as the airfare component for southern and northern parts of Nigeria respectively.
However, the airlines said the fares were quoted without the Sudan crisis in mind, noting that with the closure of the airspace in Sudan, rerouting the flight comes with extra cost not factored in the earlier quoted fares.
One of the airline operators, who spoke with our correspondent in confidence, said, “All the local airlines couldn’t sign an agreement because we gave a fare based on flying over Sudan and now you are going to do rerouting that will go over more than seven countries.
“Apart from the increase in routing, there is an increase in over-flight charges. So, we asked them to review it, because you know, none of the airlines can make a profit with that.
“You will go with the passengers, you will come back empty, that’s an outbound flight, then inbound flight, you will go empty and pick the passengers.”
The chief executive officer of Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi, said consultations are ongoing to arrive at a reasonable fare agreement with the Hajj commission.
He said, “If this (Sudan crisis) continues and Sudan airspace is closed, that means there will be an additional two to three hours on the flight and the cost would have increased not only for fueling but also for overflight charges.
“The quotation that we gave was the direct flight over Sudan. So, we must address this new challenge and I don’t think it is in the interest of anybody to just overlook it because it is a significant increase in the flight cost.
“So, we must have consultations with all stakeholders and come to a common ground to address the situation.”
Commenting on the development, aviation analyst, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, said while the airlines are justified by asking for an upward review of the fare, he advised them to be reasonable and consider the plight of pilgrims who might be compelled to pay more because of the shortfall.
He said, “Their (airlines’) position is justified in the sense that they have not started the airlift. But they should be very reasonable in the adjustment they are seeking.”
‘We are working out a solution’
The Chairman of NAHCON, Zikrullah Hassan, told journalists that the representatives of the local airlines concluded to send their chairman/CEO to the rescheduled signing of the agreement “where we intend to have some independent discussion before we come into agreement.”
When asked about the steps the commission would take if the Sudan conflict did not end before the commencement of hajj, Hassan said: “As you know, going to hajj is beyond question on whether it will be suspended or not. We are on the drawing board.
“We know the Nigerian pilgrims are not in the position to add anything to the cost of hajj, so we will work out what is best.
“We are all hopeful that the crisis will not escalate but if it does, we will put on our thinking cap to see the best way out.”