In many ways Aero Contractors remains the number one airline in Nigeria because it is the oldest operator in the country with high safety record.
It has also operated scheduled commercial service for over 15 years and at the same time it maintained robust rotor service, which provided logistics service to oil exploration and production companies for several years.
The airline on Tuesday marked 60 years of providing services to the aviation industry, boosting the highest number of indigenous technical personnel that remain unrivalled and also broke the jinx by becoming an indigenous airline that developed its maintenance capability to conduct checks on big body aircraft up to C-check level.
It is also the first airline in Nigeria that sent part of its workforce on redundancy and was able to, not only bring them back, but promoted them. That was made possible because when the airline was at the nadir of its existence, it was rejuvenated by a visionary leadership through the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) that appointed an ambitious, hardworking and dynamic management under Captain Ado Sanusi as the Chief Operating Officer.
The story of Aero is also a story where triumph defeated despair; where the will to go on over stripped the desire to give up when the future seemed strewn with labyrinth of uncertainty.
Aero Contractors was formed in 1959 and officially registered in Nigeria in 1960. At that time, it was a wholly owned by Schreiner Airways B.V. of the Netherlands.
It became a company with initially 40 per cent Nigerian holding in 1973 and subsequently 60 per cent in 1976, anticipating the requirements of the Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Decree of 1977, also known as the indigenization decree.
In January 2004, Schreiner Airways was bought by CHC Helicopter (CHC), which acquired a 40 per cent holding in Aero, while the 60 per cent majority share remained within the Ibru family.
On July 1, 2010, CHC sold its interests in Aero and the airline became wholly owned by the Ibru family.
After financial intervention, the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), an arm of the Federal Government of Nigeria, held 60 per cent of Aero, and in August 2013 AMCON took over the management of the airline.
The airline was almost going under when in February 2017 AMCON appointed Sanusi to head the company.
During the celebration of the 60 years anniversary on Tuesday, which was attended by the Ibru family, led by Cecilia Ibru, former CEO of the airline, Captain Dapo Olumide, former Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr Harold Demuren and others.
The Aero CEO, Captain Sanusi described the hard times the indigenous firm faced as a process that set them on the path to become dominant player in the sector.
He said with the commitment of the federal government to support indigenous companies through Asset Management Company of Nigeria rescued it from total collapse to financial solvency.
He said through the turbulent times they were able to become a national brand offering skilled employment to Nigerian aviation professionals and contributing to deepening the aviation sector, while noting that Aero is the first domestic aircraft company to obtain Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) certification as an approved maintenance organisation to conduct C-checks on B737 classics.
“Aero has successfully conducted three C-checks on 737 CL Boeing aircraft relying wholly on our indigenous engineers with technical support from Messrs AJA/SAA as our technical partners, which stamps Nigeria firmly into destination of choice for comprehensive aircraft maintenance-capable countries in West Africa and Central Africa.
“From February 2013 to August 2016, Aero faced hard times. Due to a combination of endogenous and exogenous factors and was under performing and almost insolvent, navigating from one crisis to another, which threatened its very existence.
“The vision paid off over the years, Aero became a dominant player and a brand noted for its excellence within the Nigerian aviation sector, with the appointment of receiver manager by AMCON with oversight on guiding a re-solvency programme with the objective of returning Aero to profitability,” he said.
Sanusi added, “The airline service has since December, 2016 returned to full operations and grown its fixed wing operational aircraft from one to four, with expectation to grow to six by close of this year. The present four aircraft improved our domestic flight operations to 32 daily.”
On her part, the former CEO of defunct Oceanic bank, Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, remarked that the Aero journey so far is a story of hope, while recognizing the efforts of some junior staff who supported the management during the trying times.
“Aero has become the backbone of private company in Nigeria,” Ibru said.
Ibru’s statement summarises the fortunes and future success of Aero Contractors.
By Chinedu Eze