Competition among airlines to attract more passengers is on the increase. The operators are coming up with different value-added services or discounts for air passengers. The industry has, thus, witnessing huge traffic in the last three years.
The factors behind the increase in air traffic cannot be divorced from the need for better consumer satisfaction. In fact, the advancement in the sector has smacks of a promising future for the industry. On the other hand, it has raised safety and quality service concerns for consumers.
It is germane to note that the Nigerian aviation industry was estimated to have contributed 0.49 per cent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product in 2019 alone.
Undoubtedly, aviation has been identified as the most preferred means of transportation among the elite in Nigeria, owing to the safety and speed it affords passengers. This explains the significant increase in revenue accruing to the country through the industry.
Against the foregoing, it is not exaggeration to say that the industry had been impeded by air accidents, flight delays and cancellations in, alongside other challenges experienced by consumers.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, which was established by the Civil Aviation Act 2006, has the power to control and maintain the activities of the aviation industry, oversight the airports and airspaces.
The consumer protection council is a major regulatory agency dealing with the rights and responsibilities of aviation consumers, as well as the obligations of airlines’ to consumers, alongside the available restitutions for denied bookings, flight delays and cancellations.
In the same vein, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria Act has its principal functions set out in Part II of the Act, a few of which are to develop, provide and maintain the airports’ necessary services and facilities for the safe operation of flights.
Consumer protection issues In Nigeria’s aviation sector
However, according to Desmond Akinola, an aviation worker, “It is baseless to have laws in any sector of the economy that cannot be effectively implemented or made to bite. What matters most is pragmatically addressing consumer issues.”
It t is expedient for governments, regulators and the flying public to understand the balance between protecting consumer rights and protecting sustainable air services. In fact, they should understand that suitable guidelines, rightly harmonised, can boost passengers’ confidence to fly.
Rather than guidelines “defending” passengers, they should be framed as a partnership between consumers and the industry, to encourage competition, innovation, consumer confidence and enhanced air connectivity.
Legislation to protect consumers
Bringing its legislative weight to bear to deepen consumer protection in Nigeria’s aviation sector, the House of Representatives has mandated its Committee on Human Rights to investigate the alleged violation of the rights of Nigerians and other passengers by airline operators.
The resolution of the lawmakers was sequel to the adoption of a motion sponsored by Karu Elisha and Taiwo Oluga at plenary on Tuesday, November 22, 2022. While moving the motion, Elisha noted that the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Act was established to promote and protect the interest of consumers over all products and services among others. He added that Nigerians and other consumers have the right to be protected by the Consumer Protection Department under the Directorate of Air Transport of NCAA, launched on March 2001, to ensure quality aviation services.
He said the House was aware that the department was established to serve as the eyes of the industry responsible for informing, educating and protecting consumers and ensuring the provision of quality services in the aviation sector.
The House, he also noted, was aware of the challenges confronting the aviation sector. Despite interventions in reviewing airfare being tolerated by both consumers and the government to cushion the effect, the charges and travel disruption have continued to increase daily.
The lawmaker expressed concerns that the continuous complaints by Nigerians and other air passengers had become alarming with the consistent violation of passenger rights to service delivery by airline service providers.
He opined that with the inconsistency of air travel schedules due to the sudden delay, cancellation and other airlift service violations, consumers were being shortchanged in their businesses, health conditions, as well as social and economic ventures without due compensation.
Prior to its intervention on Tuesday, the House had, for the umpteenth time, been wading into customer-related issues that emanated from the sector, particularly as such issues impinge on consumer rights.
In this context, the House had also, last month, called for reforms in the sector. The call was made at a meeting with the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, and operators of local airlines in the country.
At the meeting, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said, “Aviation is a gateway to any country; hence, something needs to be done about local terminals of Nigeria’s airports.”
According to him, with the level of work going on at the country’s airports, the aviation sector is bouncing back to business.
The Speaker said as far as Nigeria was concerned, there was need to find out the facts about the aviation sector, which is very critical to development. He explained that he was confident with the leadership of Sirika, but that it was important to always clear the air.
The minister, in response to some of the issues raised, said that Nigeria Air is expected to work before the end of December.
The coming of Nigeria Air is expected to give aviation operators run for their money and, to the consumers, choice of quality services. With this, the mountain of complaints is expected to reduce.
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