For the Consumer Protection Directorate (CPD) of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the year 2016 was a very challenging one going by the avalanche of complaints received against foreign and domestic airlines over flight delays, cancellations, baggage delay, baggage pilferage and a barrage of other infractions committed by airlines which turned them against their passengers.
On several occasions, the Consumer Protection Officers were caught in the middle of fisticuffs between passengers and airline officials, and they were faced with the challenge of mediating.
Information available showed that eight Nigerian airlines delayed 32,121 out of 54,682 flights operated between January and December, 2016 just as they cancelled 1,207 flights.
In the year under review, the airlines including Aero Contractors, Arik Air, Azman Air, Med-View, Dana Air, First Nation, Air Peace and Overland, all together conveyed 4,024,387 in-bound passengers and 4,171,191 out-bound passengers.
A total number of 2,236 complaints were received against foreign airlines and 71 against domestic carriers, according to the NCAA report.
There were 14,130 luggage either delayed or missing on the international route, while 37,376 baggages were found even as 2,214 complaints of pilferage and discourtesy were received against the foreign carriers.
At the domestic level, Arik Air topped the list with the highest delayed or cancelled flights. The airline conveyed 1,163,056 inbound passengers and 1,177,176 outbound passengers in 19,064 flights last year, delayed 10,996 representing 57.6 per cent and cancelled 507 flights.
Aero Contractors operated 5,668 flights, delayed 3,394 and cancelled 286 flights; Azman Air operated 4,140 flights, delayed 3,039 and cancelled 32; Dana Air carried out 6,037 flights, delayed 3,798 and cancelled 32; Med-View operated 4,575 flights, delayed 2,648 and cancelled 100 flights.
Also, Overland operated 2,227 flights, delayed 1,631 and cancelled 167 flights; First Nation did 2,002 flights, delayed 634 and cancelled 21 flights while Air Peace did 10,969 flights, delayed 5,543 and cancelled 72 flights.
Also in 2016, there were issues involving several airlines and their passengers over delay in bringing their luggage to the country. In fact in one instance, passengers had to breach security protocols by storming the tarmac, apparently to prevent the air plane from departing on account of not bringing their baggage.
In an interview, the Director of the CPD, Mr. Adamu Abdullahi explained the factors which accounted for the high rate of complaints received against domestic and international airlines.
He said, “By and large 2016 was a good year. It was only towards the end that we really had issues. And this is really beyond the airlines.It is not that I am holding forth for them, but the issue of weather which we call force majeure in aviation, is something that is beyond the power of the airlines.This is really an Act of God. Over the years, we know that December, January we have always had issues with harmattan ,but we have not been up and doing because in most of our airports, we don’t have the necessary Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) needed for aircraft landing during inclement weather.
“In fact when this issue of weather started, I read that London Heathrow did its first zero visibility landing and take-off in 1965. This is 2017 and we are still having such issue. It is not a palatable experience at all. We must sit up and make sure that our airports have the necessary instruments needed to really do aviation.
“Another major factor we had to contend with for most of the year 2016 was the issue of fuel because Jet A1 became a really contentious issue, and the price became astronomical. It started with about N150 per litre. Towards the end of the year, it became N250- N260 which is really on the high side and most of the times even at that cost it was not available because we, as a country, do not have any facility that refines Jet A1 and we have to import Jet A1 from small countries such as Cote D’ivoire and it is so unbecoming for the giant of Africa. But this is what we have found ourselves in. So these issues of weather and Jet A1 are beyond the powers of aviation and the aviation fuel issue has to do with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Ministry of Petroleum, not the Ministry of Aviation. The Minister has spoken to the NNPC, Minister of Petroleum Resources, and he has received promises of the fact that government intends to start refining Jet A1 in the country in the near future. Importers have obtained, to a certain level, some form of consideration in getting forex to import petroleum products. So these are what led to the rise in complaints in 2016.
And did these issues not put you under extreme pressure as a directorate?
You see flight delays, cancellation, loss of baggage, pilferage are expected in aviation. You can’t do aviation without all these. What is really contentious is the way you treat all these issues and that is why the regulations came out and said in the case of delays, the regulations even mentioned the number of hours, you give refreshment.In the case of cancellation, this is what you must do and there are guidelines and regulations on what you should do. All we keep telling the airlines is to make sure they do what is right under that circumstance. We had the issue of Turkish Airlines which had flight disruptions due to the weather in Istanbul, to the extent that some of the flights that left for Istanbul could not land. Turkish Airlines warned passengers here and they decided to keep them in the hotel, but some passengers abused that privilege and when they got into the hotel, they ordered all sorts of food, invited their relatives to come and eat Awoof (free food). This is what led to Turkish Airlines asking everybody to leave the hotel and we had to sort that one out too. These are issues that are really beyond man. Passengers may feel aggrieved but it is really beyond the powers of the airlines. No airline makes money with its aircraft on ground. Airlines make money when their aircraft fly.
But how do we educate passengers on where their rights and privileges stop?
Passengers take the laws into their hands and airports are not bus stops, they are not Oshodi. So there is some form of character you must exhibit when you are at the airports. You have to make sure you are cultured, you obey the rules and regulations guiding operations at the airport. This issue of beating airline staff, the first question I ask such people is, ‘after you beat the staff, did the aircraft leave’. So it doesn’t really make any difference in your condition. You are still there. And in normal climes, this is assault which takes you to jail, because whatever it is the person does to you, there are high authorities you can report to. Taking the law into your own hands is not the solution and it has never been. I have been to the airport so many times to go and mediate between passengers and airlines. I have had to be in the middle of fisticuffs, but then that is what we are trained to do, and that is why we always urge passengers whenever they have issues, look for the NCAA Consumer Protection Desk, talk to our officers who have been trained to mediate in cases of disruption in air services.
You have seen the video that has gone viral of a staff that was maltreated, the way he was raised up and flung down on that hard floor; you know it is not the best of experiences. We have had broken heads, broken arms and broken legs in the airports that have been besieged by passengers. The Honourable Minister is addressing that.He made it abundantly clear that AVSEC personnel are going to be armed and that is the only solution. Passengers tend to misbehave in their own country. The same passengers, given the same circumstance in another clime, you would see them sitting down and obeying the regulations and rules given to them. The major issue here is lack of information. Airlines do not give passengers information and that is what usually leads to such issues. So the airlines should always be truthful with the passengers because it is their flight, they paid for it. You have to always carry your passengers along. Tell them what is going on.
There has been this conflict between the directorate and the Consumer Protection Council, people believe this directorate is duplicating the functions of CPC.What is really the import of this directorate in NCAA?
Aviation world-wide is an international business. There are rules and regulations guiding it. If you look at the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States, it is Consumer Protection and Safety ditto UK CAA. So NCAA also looked at it.We started first as a unit under the Directorate of Air Transport Regulations, then became a directorate under the DG’s office directly. By 2009 we were carved out to become a full-fledged Directorate.
NCAA Act of 2006 already gave us the power to regulate consumer protection in aviation. So the fact that we now became a directorate is in that direction and since the Act of 2006 came later than the CPC Act, there is general law and specific law.So it is assumed that the same National Assembly that passed the Act of the CPC also passed that of the NCAA. Therefore they have found out there is need to have specific control in a specific area rather than the general law. So CPC Act is a general law while NCAA’s is a specific law and anything that has to do with Consumer Protection in Aviation, it is the responsibility of the NCAA and not CPC because of this specialization that I am talking about. The NCAA has ratified the Montreal Convention that deals with issue of baggage, the CPC does not have the core competence to operate in that.
Source: Daily Trust