*Tougher regulations, sanctions on the way — NCAA, FCCPC
By Lawani Mikairu, LAGOS
Airlines operating in Nigeria may be in for tough times over flight delays and cancellations, as the regulatory agency, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, and Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, FCCPC, bare their fangs.
Both federal agencies have resolved to put a stop to the phenomenon which has over time, set airlines against their customers, and the strict regulations may come sooner than expected.
Vanguard learned that a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, between them on a new sanctions regime would soon be released to stakeholders.
Of the 14,662 domestic flights operated in the country in the first quarter of this year, 7,554 were delayed.
Although the searchlight is now being beamed on operators, passengers have also been blamed for not reporting to the Consumer Protection Department delays and infractions suffered in the hands of the operators.
Industry regulator, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, told Vanguard that airlines who failed to pay adequate compensations to delayed passengers were constantly being sanctioned, warning that the sanctions will be tougher, henceforth, if they failed to raise their game.
Sanctions for defaulting airlines
Before now, sanctions such as fines and revocation of operating licences were imposed on defaulters, depending on what the regulations says in NCAA Act.
“Sanctions are not only in monetary terms. Sanctions is proportional to offence, depending on what is laid out in the books.
“Some applicable sanction could be letter of warning or suspension of operations or revocation of licence,” NCAA spokesman, Sam Adurogboye said.
However, the FCCPC considered these not stringent enough, saying they give room for airlines to easily explain delays and go scot-free.
Reliable information from the FCCPC also indicate that tougher regulations on flight delays and cancellations will soon be in force.
Flight delays could be caused by bad weather, technical fault, operational reasons, lack of capacity or equipment, etc.
When the delay is caused by bad weather or technical faults, the airline involved enjoys pardon from the regulatory authorities as these factors are many times beyond the control of the airline.
But when the delays are avoidable and caused by lack of capacity or equipment, there are recommended sanctions by NCAA, in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO, conventions.
Delayed, cancelled filghts
Data obtained by Vanguard from NCAA, show that in the first quarter of this year, 2021, out of the 14,662 domestic flights operated in the country, 7,554 were delayed.
Also, 562 flights were delayed out of the 1,871 international flights operated out of the country. Nine international and 149 domestic flights were cancelled.
Currently, there are nine domestic airlines operating scheduled flights in the country, as 19 airlines operate international flights in and out of Nigeria, according to NCAA data.
‘Good thing for aviation’
A frequent flier on the domestic scene who didn’t want his name in print, said the MoU between the NCAA and FCCPC would be the best thing to happen to the aviation sector in the country, if well enforced.
Vanguard investigations revealed that the Consumer Protection Department of NCAA, in the first quarter of the year, received seven complaints from international travellers and resolved two.
The department also received 47 complaints against domestic airlines and was able to resolve 41 in the first quarter. There were five reported cases of discourtesy against domestic airlines. No similar case was reported against any international airline.
Similarly, 10 cases of over-booking and denied boarding were recorded against domestic airlines, while two cases were reported against international airlines.
The above data indicate that passengers are not reporting enough to the regulatory authorities infractions against them by airlines. This development is said to have contributed to the manner airlines treat passengers.
NCAA warns airlines
On the action taken so far against airlines who delay and cancel scheduled flights, Mr Sam Adurogboye, General Manager, Public Affairs, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, said the agency had warned all airlines to always adhere to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (NCARs 2015) and Passengers Bill of Rights in their dealings.
He also said passengers must get value for their money, hence, “ NCAA will not refrain from applying sanctions where appropriate.”
He said further that airline operators are expected to always disseminate information to passengers on flight status and ensure they provide right care to passengers in times of delays and cancellations, in line with the Nig. CARs 2015 Part 19.
Adurogboye said: “If you delay a passenger for up to two hours, you have to give him or her some refreshments. You must have a way of compensating them until the flight is announced. There are many reasons for delays and cancellations. Most of them are safety-based.
“When safety is involved, we don’t discuss comfort, and we even encourage airlines to delay or cancel flights whenever they have technical issues or weather-related issues.
“So, when an airline can prove to us that it delayed a flight due to safety, then, they are off the hook, and that won’t attract sanctions.
We don’t announce it when we sanction airlines because sanctions are like de-marketing the airlines.”
Poor capacity utilisation
However, industry stakeholders have blamed unending flight delays and cancellations on poor use of capacity across domestic routes.
A former Acting Director-General of the NCAA, Captain Abdullahi Sidi, once said at an aviation conference that the trend is “unacceptable, and the domestic carriers, especially, must begin to take proactive and realistic measures to tackle the delays.”
He observed that most operators often put all their aircraft into service at once, to get the highest returns.
“But all their plans easily get scuttled when one of the operating aircraft goes out of service,” he explained.
Similarly, former Director of Consumer Protection Directorate, NCAA, and current Executive Commissioner, (Operations), at FCCPC, Alhaji Adamu Abdullahi, said tougher regulations on flight delays and cancellations are on the way.
Abdullahi said: “You see, sector regulators always try to balance interests of consumers and producers of services.
“An airline is a provider of service and at the same time also a consumer of the services provided by Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, Nigeria Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, and other aviation agencies.
“In fact, they also enjoy the services of NCAA in airworthiness and personnel licensing.
“Therefore, from day one, the NCAA CPD ,( Consumer Protection Directorate ), has to strike a balance between the two — airline and passenger. Yes, flight is delayed, so what’s the cause of delay? Weather, technical, operational, lack of capacity or equipment, etc?”
Delays not caused by over-booking
He said most delays are not caused by over-booking as most times, flights leave half empty. Speaking about lack of capacity of some domestic airlines, the FCCPC Commissioner said: “That is a major flaw with the NigCARs 2015. An operator requires three aircraft to go into scheduled operations.
“If any of the aircraft now has an Aircraft on Ground (AOG), or goes for a check, there’s an immediate problem.
“The airline has scheduled with three aircraft and all of a sudden, it has only two, at times only one, so passengers will have to wait as two or even an aircraft battle(s) with the schedule of three.
“The only solution is for airlines to enter into interlining and code-share agreements, but unfortunately, airlines are vehemently opposed to that. Demuren battled on that until he left NCAA but no way.
“That way, if one buys his ticket from airline A, he’ll be endorsed to airline B whenever airline A has a delay or cancellation.
“Dana and Ibom Air recently went into such an agreement. Let’s hope that it’s a sign of good things to come.
“You see, it’s entirely a commercial thing, so NCAA can’t force it. It’s a developmental phase and shall come to pass.”
Regulations under review
On the proposed tougher regulations, Adamu revealed: “Thankfully, the regulations are currently being reviewed.
“When we go into our MOU with NCAA on aviation consumer protection, things will certainly look up.
“FCCPC is just for the protection of consumers, so we can take a harder stance on violations and we’ll not give a hoot about what leads to delays and cancellations. All we are interested in is how the passenger was treated.
One of the operators on the domestic front, Dana Air, said it had always done the needful on existing sanction regime whenever it had cause to either delay or cancel flights.
Chief Operating Officer, COO, Dana Air, Mr Obi Mbanuzuo, who spoke through the airlines’ Corporate Affairs Manager, Mr Kingsley Ezenwa, said: “I don’t know about any sanctions, apart from enforcing Part 19 of the NCAA regulations which stipulates what airlines have to provide for passengers in cases of delays or cancellations.
“Refreshments in case of delays over two hours, refunds or compensation for flight cancellations if done less than 24 hours to the flight.
“Accommodation for flights cancelled or delayed after 10pm at night etc.”