Less than 48 hours to the rescheduled presidential and National Assembly elections scheduled for Saturday, February 23, 2019, domestic airlines operating in Nigeria are currently grappling with upsurge in passenger traffic, as people travel out of the major cities to other towns and  villages to enable them participate in the exercise.

Recall that many of these domestic airlines recorded huge losses following the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC to cancel the elections initially slated for February 16, at the 11th hour, which led to the cancellation of many flights with the attendant loses to the airline operators.

However reports, according to THISDAY show that there has been significant increase in passenger movement as a result of the rescheduled elections, an indication that the airline operators may recover from the earlier losses occasioned by the cancellation of last Saturday’s polls.

It was further gathered that with the current development, both scheduled commercial service providers and charter service providers have recorded tremendous increase in patronage.

Investigations also revealed that undeterred by the election postponement, voters have since Wednesday thronged the airports to travel to different parts of the country where they would cast their votes.

Former Director of Engineering, Medview Airlines and a seasoned aviation expert, Mr. Lukeman Animaseun, said the elections have encouraged people to travel, thus leading to huge passenger traffic on domestic routes.

“Yes, from what I saw last week Friday more people are travelling because of the election. I came back from Uyo to Lagos and I noticed that there were a lot of passengers. Some of the passengers were not even travelling directly to their destinations; they wanted to come to Lagos and connect their final destinations. Election has made more people to fly. That is very correct,” Animaseun said.

This development might have prompted Aero Contractors and Arik Air to introduce a promo based on the election and slashed about 50 per cent on the fares for the electorate to encourage them to go and vote for their preferred candidates during the presidential and governorship elections on February 23 and March 9, 2019.

Aero Contractors described its promo as part of its corporate social responsibility in a statement, stressing that it introduced promo fares to help Nigerians to travel and vote during the elections.

Aero said effective Monday, February 18, 2019, it would commence the sale of tickets from N16,000 for travels between February 21-25, 2019 on all her routes to encourage Nigerians to travel to their various destinations in order to cast their votes.

Arik Air also said similar thing in its statement, which it tagged fly to vote promo.

Head of Corporate Communications, Dana Air, Mr. Kingsley Ezenwa, told THISDAY that in the previous years there was usually a drop in passenger movement after the Christmas season, which would only pick up during the Easter.

He added that because of elections, the usual passenger drop did not happen; rather, airlines have continued to record relatively high load factor due to movement for rallies and campaigns.

According to him, as the elections drew nearer the electorate are travelling to where they would cast their votes.

“There is usually a drop in passenger movement this time, which picks up during the Easter but because of election, there is movement for campaign trail and voters’ movement. This has always prompted us to introduce a promo; election promo and we are offering return ticket of N27,000,” Ezenwa said.

But Head of Corporate Affairs of Air Peace, Mr. Chris Iwarah, said that passenger movement during electioneering period might have contributed very little to the airline’s passenger traffic, noting that more people fly Air Peace because they trust the airline and not because of movements occasioned by the elections.

He also noted that compared to Christmas period there was obvious drop but the airlines still maintained average of 70 per cent to 80 per cent load factor.

“I wouldn’t say that election has boosted our traffic because there is no significant change but I believe that more people fly us because they trust our airline. The number of passengers we have keeps increasing because people trust us. Election may contribute but it is not very significant,” Iwarah said.

Comparing 2015 to 2019, spokesman of Arik Air, Mr. Adebanji Ola, said that there might be increase in passenger movement due to the elections but it is low when compared to the same period in 2015, noting that at that time there was significant passenger surge.

However, industry analyst and CEO of Aglow Limited, Tayo Ojuri, told THISDAY that without the elections there would have been more significant drop in passenger movement at this period when compared to previous years but the election has made it possible for the airlines to record higher traffic.

He noted that passenger movement in the first quarter is not very low due to movement occasioned by the elections on the domestic routes, adding that the major destinations: Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja are very busy and even secondary airports too.

Ojuri said: “The elections have enhanced higher traffic for domestic airlines, but in the second quarter there will be drop in passenger traffic after the election. What drive traffic are government activities and when there is lull in government, it reflects on passenger traffic. So we look at growth in the third quarter because by that time a new government would have been inaugurated and the budget would have been passed”.