Looking at the year 2012, one would say domestic airlines in the country have been through the ups and down with some of them going under for various reasons but what is most notable is how some of them and others have started clawing their way back into reckoning.
Wrought with many challenges 2012 started out as a normal year with all the normal complaints from airline especially as it regards providing the enabling environment for them to thrive, this included the cry to make Jet A1 otherwise known as aviation fuel to be cheaper.
This and many others had formed the fulcrum of airlines agenda in 2012 when they categorically stated and statistics supported them that aviation fuel accounted for over 45 per cent of the Nigerian airline’s operating cost.
However, all that became issues relegated to the back burner with the June 3, 2012 Dana air crash that claimed over 160 people on board and on the ground.
With the unfortunate crash, things changed instantly, regulation became enforced and airlines started to sit up and even some who could not live up to expectation fell out.
Before the crash, airlines (Not helicopter or chartered operators) that operated notable scheduled commercial passenger service included Aero, Air Nigeria, Arik Air, Associated Air, Chanchangi, Dana Air, First Nation, IRS and Overland Airlines.
What happened to airlines?
After the crash however, Dana Air in solidarity with the families of victims, halted their operations before the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) grounded the airline because of it aircraft type to investigate further the reason of the crash.
Associated grounded itself with reason that it was planning to bring in new aircraft as it aimed at re-fleeting.
First Nation immediately after the crash took both its Airbus A320 out of the country in July, alleging that they are due for maintenance, the airline is yet to fly till now and there are even allegations that the owners of the aircraft have repossessed their equipment.
Then there is the issue of Air Nigeria that started long before the Dana crash, where pilots and engineers of that airline had gone on strike twice, first in November 2011 and then just before the crash in May 2012.
The airline was grounded but Chairman, Air Nigeria, Dr. Jimoh Ibrahim, the next day displayed a memo written to the airline by the Director, Airworthiness Standards, NCAA, Engr. Patrick Ekunwe dated 12th June, 2012 with the reference number: NCAA/DAWS.002/12/VOL.1/149 stating that the airline was not grounded.
The memo with the title ‘Domestic and Regional Flight operations of Air Nigeria, reads in part, “Please be informed that Air Nigeria has been cleared by Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to resume its normal domestic and regional flight operations. Please grant them the necessary flight clearances accordingly.”
Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) also filed charges of evading five years tax payment of N4.86 billion naira and forgery of Tax Clearance Certificate (TCC) against Air Nigeria and both the chairman and the then CEO were joined in the 10-count charge.
After writhing and kicking for a while and giving dates on when Air Nigeria would return to operations, General Electric (GECAS) came to Nigeria under the Cape Town Convention, to repossess five of its aircraft from the company.
The airline was still flying its international route to London via a leased A330 from Egypt Air but ended its operations on November 2012 and sacked its entire staff leaving a long line of litigations and unpaid salaries and benefits in its wake.
Chanchangi Airlines on its own struggled to keep up operations with its aircraft leased from Jordanian Air but after trying to maintain a semblance of operations, the airline went under due to the series of operational challenges it had.
All these created the downward spiral for the airline industry, considered by Nick Fadugba, former African Airline Association (AFRAA) Secretary General, as the weakest link in the Nigerian aviation industry.
Fortune turns at the end of the year
Towards the end of the year feelers started coming in that more airlines were processing their Airline Operators Certificate (AOC) with the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and with that came the commencement of operations of Medview Airlines.
Medview came into operation in November 2012 and has since started turning the fortunes of airlines declaring on December 24 that in barely two months it airlifted 32,000 passengers domestically.
Chief executive of the airline, Mr. Munir Bankole said that the airline lifted about 12, 846 passengers in November when it commenced operations and more than 20, 110 in December.
He also explained that in the first quarter of next year, the airline may add Kano and Sokoto to its route network and has as part of its plans, intentions to extend into the West Coast, thus the acquisition of the 737-800.
He said,” In our future plans in the first quarter of the year because every quarter we tell you something new, we look at the area that we might be operating to like Kano and Sokoto to add to these fleet but for now to close the year, to be on our record that we came in we commenced our flight operation on the 8th of November when we did our inaugural flight and from the 8th of November till the end of November we carried a total of 12, 846 passengers .”
“As from 1st of December till today, we have carried 20,110 passengers so that is what encouraged us to go and get additional aircraft because we feel that the people are getting the comfort they need from this machine and they needed something better so we decided to help ourselves so today as at yesterday was 19,850 passengers, in the morning we operated some flights but I am giving approximately about 20,000 to be on your record “
Then Chanchangi was seen again hurtling towards the sky, only for stakeholders to realise that the airline was back into the fray.
The NCAA determined that the airline met all its requirement and is fit to take to the skies ones more and the management of the airline says it is ready ones again to take the country by storm.
Executive director, administration of Chanchangi Airlines, Alhaji Musa Chanchangi, who hinted this recently, said that the airline which re-launched its operations after a hiatus that lasted several months would be re-positioned to have a good share of the domestic passenger traffic.
He said the airline had become a carrier to reckon with in the aviation industry due to its on-time departure and unequalled safety records made possible by a long time standing maintenance culture.
Though the carrier had had some operational challenges which compelled it to suspend operations for some months, the executive director explained that the carrier adopted the strategy of a good businessman who knows when to retreat and re-equip himself to take on his competitor(s).
“That is exactly what the airline did when it rested its services to re-strategize and re-equip itself for a modern aviation business which is so digitalized that only the strong can cope and stand the heat.
Now the airline is back to operation with new generation aircraft from Boeing to explore and add glamour to the Nigerian aviation industry,” he said.
Then just before the New Year, it was announced that Dana Air has been allowed to start flying.
Aero and Arik, already powerful domestic players controlling over 70 per cent of the market among them will be in for a major shakedown especially if the other growing carriers (in the domestic scene) play their customer satisfaction card right to attract and keep passengers.
However, these carriers too are not resting on their oars as they have also put together plans to approach 2013 as a business year with Arik expanding further as it has promised and Aero changing management to re-organize itself and be stronger for it.
With the recommencement of operations of Dana Air, the airline industry that was reduced again to just the big two, Aero and Arik Air has been given diversity bring the airlines to seven now with Chanchangi, Dana, IRS, Medview and Overland.
Here is hoping that 2013 will be a safety first and profit in the back burner year as safety in the industry will increase capacity and profit in the long run.