The CEO of United Nigeria Airlines, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo was quoted as saying that the Nigerian Economy will suffer if Air Peace goes under. A lot of people “dragged” him on social media.
A family member in America then asked me about that “What do you think is the value of Air Peace to Nigeria and its economy”? I jokingly told him that they carry Super Eagles Players to play matches and then bring home stranded Nigerians when they need evacuation from foreign lands.
He said to me “Think about the role of Dangote and his contribution to the Nigerian Economy, think about the contribution of Ikechi Uko to the Nigerian Economy, think about the importance of Air Peace and IbomAir to the economy of Nigeria. That is what great nations do and that is how they allocate resources.
After the discussion my mind went straight to Arik Airlines and how Nigeria became smaller with the drop in the size and scale of Arik Air operation.
The whole Year of Return Project of Ghana would have been anchored around Arik Air with Lagos as the transit hub. I remembered the 2010 World Cup and how everyone was passing through Lagos to South Africa connecting Delta, SAA and Arik. All that is gone.
There was no Diaspora Conference in the World that did not have the Arik VP for North America as a speaker.
Arikair was the bridge between Africa and its Diaspora.
All that conversation disappeared with seizure of Arik from Sir Joseph Arumemi-Ikhide.
I remember the day after the Aviation Union picketed Arik and it suspended its flights for 24 hours. There was chaos all over the country. FAAN and Co. had to call off the unions.
Nigeria exports what it lacks and imports what it has. That is the Nigerian conundrum.
We export democracy and stability. We send peacekeepers Worldwide; we intervene to stop wars and coups elsewhere. We give peace but not at home. We export petroleum but import petroleum products at crippling cost.
Nigerians are funding the educational system of many countries but it’s over 100 universities are shackled by strike and lack of Investment.
Nigerian passengers are the bread and butter of foreign Airlines but its airlines struggle to survive.
Nigerian Airlines were dominating West African airspace but dying at home.
Arik was the pride of the West Coast but the Nigerian factor crippled it.
Air Transport in Nigeria is going through challenges right Now and it is Air Peace that is in the eye of the storm. The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS, credited Air Transport with a 63% growth in 2021 which was the highest growth in any area of the Economy.
2 New Airlines came onboard, Green Africa and United Nigeria. 5 brand New Aircraft were added for the first time since 2010. The E195 E2 from Embraer were delivered to Air Peace brand new. IbomAir took delivery of the A220 Airbus, the first airline in West Africa to do that though not brand new. It had since placed orders for brand new A220s from. Airbus so did Overland Airways.
About 8 Airbus, A320 were leased by Arik, Aero, Air Peace and United Nigeria in December. Max Air took delivery of an Airbus A340.
14 Million Passengers were carried in 2021 about 6 million less than 2019.
It was not a terrible year for the 10 active airlines in Nigeria.
But it was the year Nigerians got tired of flight delays. The total average time of delayed flights in Nigeria was over 50% of all flights. This is better than the years of aviation fuel scarcity when Nigerians were stranded abroad at different airports. After the aviation flight drama, there was the weather drama as all airports in Nigeria became mostly VFR Airports at some point and flights got diverted to Accra, Lome and Malabo.
Things have improved but the love lost between Nigerians and their airlines have not changed. Social media has also become a big factor. It is easy to de-market an airline in social media nowadays.
The Nigerian Factor that affects Aviation
- Dominant Male Syndrome
Air Peace is acting as the dominant male in the Nigerian Aviation Ecosystem. It succeeded Arik Airlines in its dominance.
There will always be a dominant male in Nigeria Aviation. Nigerian Airways was the dominant and only male it had 36 Aircraft in 1979. It bought brand new aircraft from MD, Airbus and Boeing.
Later Okada became a young male that later dominated with close to 47 registered aircraft.
Its decline gave rise to the golden age of private aviation. ADC Airlines became the dominant male with the best pilots and staff of Nigeria Airways running things at the airline. They set such high standards in all areas that their influence is still being felt till today
Bellview took over the airspace and reigned supreme all over West Africa. Just at the cusp of its dominance Aero Contractors a non-scheduled charter operator and the oldest surviving airline in Nigeria changed nomenclature and became Aero. Before it could enjoy its dominance at the dawn of democratic rule in Nigeria, Arik Airlines came with a very loud bang in 2005.
Brand new Boeing Aircraft, sparkling new approach to aviation and swashbuckling swagger of the Chairman. It heralded the return of the Aviation BigMan, Sir Joseph Arumemi-Ikhide.
2. The Aviation BigMan.
At the old Portakabin office of Nigerian Airways I overheard a joke about the “Dollar Walk Versus the Naira walk.”
The Dollar Walk is smooth with a bounce but the Naira walk is sturdy, loud and rude. The ladies were describing their bosses. The dollar laden bosses and the naira thieves and the difference in their lifestyle and attitude.
The Nigerian Aviation BigMan has a combination of the 2 attributes.
Everyone in aviation hates him and wants him to fail. They believe he is a portfolio investor. He is in aviation for money laundering. He only has money and is not an Aviator, so he cannot run a good airline. They initiate processes to destabilize him. Nigerian Aviators do not believe anyone but themselves can run a successful airline.
The Aviation BigMan is usually an outsider who invest heavily in aviation. Being an outsider who is seen as the Lord of the Manor. This rubs off on the wrong side of the industry players who like to feel superior with their skill and Knowledge. So the “Gotcha Campaign” begins. He is misinterpreted, misrepresented and misadvised until he fails. The BigMan also falls into the trap set up for him by being combative in an effort to wade off the incessant sniping actions against his person and company.
The Gotcha campaign is actually a deleterious subterranean war. It eventually gets the BigMan Down by dragging him into ego battles with Authorities.
Okada Airline was the first official Big Man Airline. Owned the flamboyant Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion. He was rich and powerful and carried himself like an immortal. His larger than Life carriage was legendary.
Bellview Airlines had the young smart entrepreneur, Kayode Odukoya who also became a victim of the Gotcha Campaign. He lasted until the 2006 plane crash. He was accused of being Combative and arrogant.
Captain Okon of ADC Airline was a thorough bred professional who was accused by many of being arrogant and aloof. His team told Nigerians that they were the opposite of failing Nigeria Airways. They thrived at the top.
The ADC Airline plane crash saw the end of the reign of ADC and the exit of the amiable Captain and his great team. One of them at ADC Capt. Mfon Udom is the CEO of Award winning IbomAir.
Virgin Nigeria arrived almost at same time as Arik. With the reputation of Richard Branson behind it and in competition with Arik, they established the Best Aviation standards that produced the crop of Aviators running things in Nigeria today. So much so that all good managers who did not come from ADC and Bellview are of the VK Stock.
But the BigMan of the new era from 2006 till 2016 was no other that Sir Joseph Arumemi-Ikhide
He was the African Aviation supremo and the nearest in flamboyance to the Esama of Benin. He was not flaunting different colours and types of Rolls Royce.
We had other rich Nigerian Airline owners but they did not run very successful Airlines for a long time and never dominated the arena alone.
You had late Chief MKO Abiola of Concord Airlines, Prince Arthur Eze of Triax Airlines, and Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu of Oriental Airlines fame.
So Chief Allen Onyema is the new BigMan. He came from outside aviation and became a big investor so the aviation lynch mob are after him.
He is the new BigMan so the same traps have been set for him. He will be dragged into unnecessary controversies. He will probably respond the same way that Arumemi-Ikhide of Arik, Odukoya of Bellview, and Capt. Okon of ADC Airline did. He will be attacked in similar manner hoping to get the same result as in the past.
A foreign Airline Manager once asked me why Nigerians like to attack their best and cuddle their worst. (“No be juju be dat” in Asari Dokubos voice)
3. The 8 Plane 10 year Paradox
No Nigerian Airline with 8 airplanes has survived 10 years intact.
No Nigerian Airline with over 8 airplanes has dominated at the top with excellence for more than ten years.
Aero is the longest running airline in Nigeria since the 60s and currently is under receivership with AMCON. Arik is under receivership with AMCON. Overland Airways is the oldest among the airlines that started after the 1999 democratic transition in Nigeria. But it has never really become a big airline with over 8 planes. It has operated at the margins and not a tier 1 Airline in Nigeria but it has broken the Jinx of surviving 10 years with no hiccup even if it has been overtaken by Successor Airlines.
DANA also is more than ten years but its rise was cut short in 2012 with the loss of one its aircraft. It currently has 4 active aircraft. Since then it has not really grown.
Virgin Nigerian had since died.
Once a Nigerian Airline gets its 8th plane it starts having problems. Nobody seems to have an answer to why this happens.
An observer thinks the behaviour of IbomAir might be a solution.
There are 2 Contending Models. More flights to few destinations.
That is the type practised by IbomAir it has 7 Aircraft but flies to 6 destinations carrying Over 1.5 million Passengers in 9551 Flights.
Maybe that explains why it has had for 2 years running the Best Ontime Performance in Nigeria.
Schedule Integrity is the biggest headache for air travellers in Nigeria.
Green Africa practices the other Model which Covers as many Stations as possible.
It has 3 aircraft but has 8 destinations carrying over 100,000 Passengers in 1092 flights.
Airlines with smaller fleet fly to more destinations. More studies need to be carried out on which model which best suits the country.
4. The Biennial Boom and Bust Cycle.
Every 2 or 3 years there is an increase in the number of airlines that come onboard. Then by the 18th month when they are required to do their checks they die off.
In the year of boom they depress and erode market value and bring down air fares. They collapse and air fares go up.
Then the next cycle begins. It has been like that since the liberalisation of aviation in Nigeria.
2021/22 is the new cycle of boom which is expected to peak in 2022 early 2023 and the hiccup starts from June 2023. The recent attempt by airlines to fix fares might be an attempt to break the vicious cycle of loss.
The impact of Air Peace
Since the decline of Arik the successor airline has been Air Peace.
There was no sign in 2014 that Air Peace will become the Dominant Male it later became. But with steady feet it has climbed to 34 Air planes over 7 Years.
Today it carried over 3 million passengers out of the 14 Million air travellers in Nigeria in 2021. It operated more than 18000 Flights to 26 Airports.
That is about 30% of all air travellers and almost 40% of all domestic travellers. It has about 35% of active aircraft in Nigerian Airspace.
It is the only Nigerian International Airline flying to 8 destinations outside Nigeria.
So what is the contribution of Air Peace to the GDP of Nigeria? How much does 40% of Air Transport translate to in GDP terms?
Should we treat Air Peace and IbomAir better than we are treating them now?
If the two top airlines in Nigeria shut down for one week how will the Economy fare?
I don’t have answers to these questions but I am a lot wiser while contemplating on the issues.
Let me look for a Business Analyst to unpack it for me.
By the way if the airlines are doing better than the country and we still are complaining should we not hand over the country to a receiver manager? Lol.
I did not write the Last past.
By Ikechi Uko