Captain Ado Sanusi, CEO of Aero Contractors, Nigeria’s oldest airline, says the development of the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility of the carrier, coupled with the assistance of the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), has repositioned the airline. He speaks on other sundry issues in the aviation sector. Excerpts:
How far have you gone with Aero MRO?
MRO started out of necessity. Aero Contractors Company of Nigeria had challenges in the beginning, they were underperforming and heading to crisis. And to get out of that crisis, we had to innovate and see whether we can do heavy maintenance for our airplanes which we started in 2017. Luckily for us we got the approval from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and we got support from our shareholders which is AMCON (Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria).
We did the first C-check on the 737 Classic. And from that point, we did not look back: it was going forward and then we started doing more C-checks, more heavy maintenance. Since then we have done three C-checks and the MRO has expanded and is getting approval from other countries. We have also gone further to start providing light maintenance for other companies. We have expanded our capabilities both in the helicopter section and the fixed wing.
In the helicopter section, we have just coupled a 139 Helicopter that was brought in pieces from Malaysia. We coupled it up in record time and it is flying. Even the manufacturers of the Helicopter are very impressed. And these are all done with our local talents.
Aero Contractors Company has been in existence for almost 60 years now. There are a lot of talents that we have not tapped and what we did from 2017 till date was to identify these talents, do a lot of training and then harness and project them towards the development of formidable MRO.
So we are very proud to say that most of our maintenance, almost 90 per cent of our maintenance is conducted by local talents.
We have partnerships of course, technical partnerships with a lot of MROs around the world, most especially in South Africa and Ethiopia. But majority of our engineers are home-grown and we have entered into another phase by employing young engineers to make sure that we have continuity in the manpower development of the entire industry.
You talk about many countries auditing your MRO facility. How many of them altogether and what does this portend for the company?
For the MRO, we have gotten approval from Ghana. As we speak we are doing audit with Congo CAA (Civil Aviation Authority). We have also received documentation from Mali. We are in talks with Niger and Cameroon. So the MRO is now a regional MRO, meaning all airlines that want to maintain or do Airworthiness Directive and don’t want to fly their planes to South-Africa, East Africa or Ethiopia, or even Europe, they can just do two hours or 30 minutes flight – like Accra to Lagos – and we will do the maintenance. That brings foreign exchange to Nigeria; and employment for our local engineers in the country. So we are creating jobs and we are also bringing foreign exchange and we are also putting Nigeria on the map that we have a maintenance facility.
Med-View MD recently said his aircraft is undergoing maintenance at your facility. What is the essence of the work you are going to do on the equipment?
We are very proud of our local airlines. They have been very supportive. From my experience in aviation, I do not think there has been this kind of collaboration among local airlines. The local airlines, especially Med-View, Air Peace, Max Air, have shown interest in developing our MRO. As you heard from the CEO of Med-View, we are to conduct C-check on their aircraft.
We recently received the NCAA which came to look at what we are doing. So we are doing heavy maintenance for Med-View. We have also signed agreement to do heavy maintenance for Max Air. We have always been doing heavy maintenance for Air Peace. These airlines have shown great support for MRO development in Nigeria.
I commend them, I commend their CEOs, and thank them. They have positively impacted on the aviation industry in general. The singular act of deciding to use Aero MRO, as I have said, is not because Aero MRO will make profit, what they have done is to develop the MRO because; their engineers can come and do auditing with us to develop their capability. Recently, we had to employ over 20 engineers to assist with the load of work. Now the MRO is going to be operating almost 24 hours a day; we are going to have continuous shift to make sure we deliver aircraft in record time.
We thank our local airlines because they have broken that jinx that maintenance cannot be done locally. Most importantly, their engineers would be part and parcel of the checks we are doing. Also, we have a very flexible payment plan. So when they bring their airplanes, we discuss because we understand the peculiarities of the environment. So we talk to their bankers and we come up with a very flexible payment plan. Our own aim is to develop the country’s aviation industry. It is time for us to break the jinx of our airlines not passing 10 years. It is not only about competition, we must develop the industry so that we can have healthy competition. If the industry is dead, there is no competition.
So we have to make sure that the airlines are supported. We will do our own part and we hope the Federal Government will do their part. For our maintenance facility, I have assured the local airlines that I will not mind going lower than any price they receive for any heavy C-check outside the country and I will always keep to that.
With the Federal Government building an MRO, will you advise that it should be built on the foundation you have already laid?
Well, if the Federal Government wants to build an MRO, it is a welcome development, it means that they are now looking at aviation in a different light which is very good. I welcome the idea. But I will say building MRO is not like building a hotel. MROs are built from confidence, from the point of where is the talent? What is driving me to build the MRO? Is it because I have an airline that I want to maintain my aircraft?
Most successful MROs around the world were driven by either an airline like KLM, Lufthansa Technik, British Airways. Now there are other MROs that don’t have an airline that is driving them, they are mostly in America. But what is driving them is talents.
On whether to use Aero as a launch pad, I will say it is either you use the talents of Aero Contractors because the talents are there or you use the entire company. But I don’t think that you start up an MRO without looking at the talents.
Now to what extent has your MRO boosted the fleet of Aero Contractors?
When we started, we were flying one aircraft. Based on the fact that the aircraft was going to be due for C-check, that means we would have zero aircraft. We had to start looking inward as we could not take the aircraft out, it is close to $1m for maintenance. So we could not take it out, we don’t have the money. So the only way was to look inwards and start maintaining the aircraft locally. That singular act of looking inwards helped us to have a C-check conducted locally and then we could conduct three more C-checks.
Now we have four airplanes flying. We used to do less than 12 flights a day when I came in, now we are doing 32 flights a day. So you can see how it has boosted the flight operation and then of course our revenue has increased. Before we were carrying less than 8,000 passengers in a month, now we are carrying 25,000 to 30,000 passengers a month.
Why are Nigerian airlines not competing on the sub-regional routes?
West Coast has been profitable. It is just the matter of using the right aircraft. West Coast definitely is a goldmine if you use the right aircraft and right timing. To improve the West Coast travel and profitability, one thing that must be done is to unify the charges. All the countries should come together under the auspices of West and Central Africa and unify the charges. And the unified charges should be on a cost-recovery basis.
You talked about airport company and airports authority. Are you saying changing the name from airport authority to airport company would make FAAN much more effective?
Not only changing the name which is very simple, but the mindset and the culture of the entire workforce must be changed. So there must be a paradigm shift. There is only one regulator in the industry which is the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). All other players in the industry are service providers or investigators like the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) which is investigating everybody including the NCAA or the regulator which is regulating everybody including FAAN.
What are your thoughts on multiple destinations for foreign airlines?
If we keep allowing multiple destinations, none of the airlines can grow. Now multiple destination is good for consumers and very good for globalization but when you hear somebody shouting globalization, that means his country is proud to export something. But if I am not proud to export something and still try to hatch the ones that I have, I will definitely try and lock my borders.
What we are saying is multiple destinations should be done in such a way that it is tied to development of local airlines.
By Abdullateef Aliyu