Towards a more virile aviation industry in 2020

IN few days’ time, activities within the country’s aviation sector like other sectors of the economy will be winding down with stakeholders within them taking stock.

Without doubt, the year has come with its own unique experience which determined the level of achievements recorded either positively or negatively depending on whichever side of the divide the operational pendulum swung to for different groups.

Generally, the sector experienced safety with no major accident or incident just as the different agencies of government went about their specific duties despite their lean pockets.

Without doubt, what makes aviation sector thick anywhere is the presence of its airline business made up of the domestic and the foreign airlines operating into and out of the country. Therefore, the experience recorded in the outgoing year cannot be complete without looking into the activities of the airlines particularly the indigenous carriers whose operations contributed mainly to events that unfolded in the sector.


Impact of foreign airlines:

In the outgoing year, the over 28 foreign airlines operating into Nigeria had a swell time with huge profits they repatriated to their home countries as they enjoyed fully booked seats onboard their flights.

In the outgoing year, many of the foreign airlines had their frequencies increased while new ones are itching to commence operations between their countries and Nigeria,

The constant good outing being enjoyed by the foreign airlines even in the outgoing year has been attributed to the unlimited privileges made possible by the federal government as witnessed in the multiple entry points and many frequencies doled out to them at the expense of the domestic carriers. In other words, the foreign airlines in the outgoing year have soared very high.


How domestic airlines faired:

In the outgoing year, activities at the domestic scene have been a mixture of good and bad, owing to several factors which affected the operational output of many of the domestic carriers.

Talking about the low side of domestic flight operations in 2019, some of the airlines experienced critical challenges which shook their foundation. Within the period under review, Medview Airlines that used to be one of the strong airlines that were able to bring succour to the Nigerian flying public ran into problems which forced it to suspend its flight operations within and outside the country. As of December 2019, the airline has yet to bounce back even though efforts are on top gear to bring in two aircraft to enable the airline resume operations.

Dana Air, an airline that can be likened to a cat with nine lives, despite the challenges it suffered through the fatal crash it had in 2012, has been able to bounce back flying across many states in the country. The height of the airline’s feat was when it took delivery of two Boeing airplanes to join its fleet of MD83 towards the end of the year. Acquisition of the two Boeing aircraft formed part of its earlier promise to gradually re-fleet for the yearnings of its customers.

Despite the huge challenges including high indebtedness of Arik Air and Aero Contractors which almost consumed them until the government through Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) came to their rescue, the two continued to play their roles well flying passengers across the length and breadth of the country. Obviously, while the two airlines with their statuses as government entities still have many hurdles to cross, key players in the outgoing year called for the merger of the two to form the proposed new national carrier which many are opposed to.

Overland Airways owned by the shrewd businessman cum trained pilot, Edward Boyo, remained constant on the domestic routes flying its customers with little or no crisis.


Air Peace, the bridge builder:

No doubt, out of the existing six domestic airlines, only five were active as they continued to service the Nigerian flying public. The level of satisfaction the flying class enjoyed on the domestic scene in the outgoing year was mainly made possible by Air Peace, an airline which joined the business in 2013.

The airline which from day one of its entrance started beating records as it commenced operations with seven aircraft at a go never brought down the high expectations as it took over between 40 and 50 per cent of the passenger traffic on the domestic scene.

With over 25 aircraft in its fleet, Air Peace succeeded in bridging the lacuna created by the inadequate number of domestic airlines faced by the overwhelming volume of the flying public as the airline with the professionalism of its management was able to service the larger parts of Nigeria which the other airlines could not reach due to logistics problems.

Apart from becoming a bridge builder between Nigeria and other countries, the airline in the year under review performed creditably well covering the gap left behind by shortage in the number of domestic airlines.

Prior to the coming of the carrier, the traveling public were at the receiving end with many getting stranded due to the inability of the existing airlines to operate to many routes particularly those routes not viewed as viable.

Having the largest fleet size, the airline has been able to meet the yearnings of the traveling public though with its challenges.

The feat achieved by Air Peace in the outgoing year was not limited to the domestic scene but was also extended to regional and international scenes.

The airline within the year made its impact felt on the regional routes of Freetown, Banjul, Dakar and Accra, flying the flag of Nigeria and putting smiles on the faces of Nigerians plying the routes.

Besides operating into some West African countries, the airline within the year commenced operations into Sharjah via Dubai in the Middle East with almost full load.

Efforts were on top gear by the airline to commence flights into London, Guangzhou-China, Houston, Mumbai and South Africa when the airline was caught up in a serious aero politics.

Another feat achieved by the airline in 2019 was its signing of firm order for three additional Embraer Jets at the Dubai Airshow making it a total firm order of 13 E195-E2s with 17 purchase rights for the same model, which delivery would begin in May 2020. These new E195-E2s will be included in Embraer’s 2019 fourth-quarter backlog and have a value of $212.6 million, based on Embraer’s current list prices. The airline’s fleet size presently has grown from seven to 25 with another twenty being expected to join the fleet by the middle of 2020.

Early in the year, 10 new Max aircraft were ordered from Boeing until the aircraft type had issues which were yet to be resolved.

The outgoing year will always be remembered as a year when the airline willingly stepped into the position of a national carrier by volunteering to evacuate over 500 Nigerians stranded in South Africa as a result of xenophobic attacks. This singular feat threw the aviation sector and the whole country into frenzy with the federal government and other Nigerians commending the airline. The development shored up the image of the government and the country before the whole world.


Why FG, Nigerians should support local airlines:

Some key players have scored the domestic airlines low, some have commended them for being able to keep the airline business ongoing despite the economic hardship and unfriendly policies of government.

Many stakeholders, though generally agreed that the airlines contributed to their not too impressive performance in the outgoing year, also blamed the government for being responsible for the unimpressive show of the domestic airlines as witnessed in what they called unpopular policies and unfriendly environment created by government.

According to Mr Olumide Ohunayo, Director at Zenith Travels, Lagos, “FG needs to increase the entering qualification for new airlines. Personally, I will ask government to freeze the issuance of new Air Operators Certificates (AOCs) and if there is anyone interested in airlines business, he should partner with the airlines already available by investing in any of them. If government can freeze the issuance of AOCs, if they can increase the minimum entering points for airlines, I think we will have a little bit of consolidation  and that will strengthen the airlines.

“In moving forward, government should concentrate on infrastructure, if they can improve the facilities at airports, expand the operational hours for the airlines, these are the areas government should work on, reduce the cost of operations at the airports that are not viable so that it will attract services to them. I think if government should just consolidate on infrastructure, improve  security and safety, assist in the area of the availability of aviation fuel, if the price can be brought down and help the operations of the local airlines, we can just leave the airlines to do the rest and there will be improved services.”

Mr Peter Ajayi, who described himself as a regular traveler through the Lagos airport, disagreed with those blaming the domestic airlines for poor performance saying, “Rather than blame them, the airlines should be commended for investing their money in the business in an environment where government has not hidden its preference for foreign airlines.

“The government needs to support its own in the coming year if it sincerely wants the domestic airline to remain in business for the sake of its flying citizens. Our government should learn to protect its indigenous companies even in the face of challenges as it is happening to Air Peace airline. The governments of other nations like Britain, America and the Middle East will never abandon Air Peace if it was their own airline. This airline, either we like it or not, has done so much to bring hope to domestic airline business in Nigeria. Therefore, government needs to look into these areas next year as this will further strengthen and encourage the indigenous airlines.”


Looking ahead:

Though many have described the domestic airline activities in the outgoing year as that of mixed feelings but again, stakeholders have expressed their worries over the fate that has befallen the biggest of the local airlines, Air Peace, and what they termed the refusal of government to wade into it. According to those who spoke to the Nigerian Tribune, the concern is premised on the consequences that may hit the entire sector if the government allows the airline to get distracted in view of its huge contributions and importance to the local aviation industry. To them, government should do its best to protect Air Peace and other domestic airlines for that matter in the new year through government engaging in aero politics and making the business environment more friendly.

There is the need for government to cut down the excessive taxes the airlines are paying, the expensive price of aviation fuel and many more. If government plays its role well in these areas, domestic aviation industry will experience a better deal in 2020.