ABUJA Dec 21 Nigeria is trying to import more
jet fuel but air travelers tired of delays must be patient as a
shortage of foreign currency will continue to hurt the airline
industry, the minister of aviation said.
"The flight has been delayed due to a scarcity of aviation
fuel," has become a standard announcement at Nigerian airports,
where passengers spend much of the day waiting as the
recession-hit West African nation struggles to buy jet fuel in
Most domestic flights have been delayed for hours or
cancelled in the past two weeks, with airlines unable to get jet
fuel and, due to the subsequent loss of business, struggling to
pay staff. Unions grounded the biggest local carrier, Arik Air,
for one day on Tuesday over unpaid salaries.
Hadi Sirika, the minister of state for aviation, said that
the central bank was releasing more hard currency but that fuel
importers were competing with health, education, transport,
social services and security agencies which also need dollars.
"I was in the central bank three times since I became
minister, soliciting for foreign exchange, and they have started
to give airlines foreign exchange," he told Reuters late on
Tuesday. "The major challenge is that we have a foreign exchange
Nigeria's foreign exchange reserves have dwindled as low oil
prices have reduced a crucial source of dollars, pushing the
country into recession. Oil accounts for 90 percent of Nigeria's
"While this recession will last and while this problem of
forex availability will last, we'll have to appeal to Nigerians
and other people that pass through our airports to exercise
patience and be aware of the situation," the minister said.
Sirika said that Nigeria's derelict refineries in Port
Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna would soon resume jet fuel production
as the state oil firm was overhauling them.
"They have the capacity to refine A1 (fuel) but they have
long stopped doing that. The petroleum resources ministry and
NNPC have assured us that they will resume production of Jet A1
- that is for the long term," he said.
The central bank on Monday launched a special foreign
exchange auction to provide dollars to airlines and fuel
State oil firm NNPC said on Monday it would be releasing 26
days of aviation fuel to "forestall shortage".
But a Lagos-based fuel trader said jet fuel shortages would
probably continue until January due to demand for tickets during
the festive season. The government's priority is to give hard
currency to gasoline importers to avoid queues at petrol
stations, he said.
(additional reporting by Ulf Laessing and Libby George Writing
by Paul Carsten; Editing by Hugh Lawson)