ALLIANCES among domestic airlines have eluded Nigeria for decades and this lack of synergy has caused the widening gulf between foreign and Nigerian airlines to worsen as in their weakened states indigenous airlines are not courted for partnership as is done in other climes.
One major reason why international airlines refuse to enter into agreements, either code shares or interlines with Nigerian carriers has always been the underwhelming capacity of Nigeria’s indigenous airlines in a vastly untapped domestic market.
Funny thing there though is the airlines are aware of this weakness and know what to do as a matter of principle but lack of trust, transparency and refusal to grant full disclosures have made investors choose to go it alone only to watch their investments go under due to multiple challenges.
The industry and country have been clamouring to see more of the kinds of partnerships signed in 2009 when Delta Air Lines entered into a code share with Nigerian Eagle Airlines and another, a technical partnership with Ethiopian Airlines after Virgin was transformed into Nigeria Eagle.
For this to happen, indigenous airlines needed to corroborate and strengthen each other and so it came as a pleasant surprise when Dana Air-Ibom Air announced their alliance after surmounting the above odds highlighted above. READ ALSO: Experts dissect pros, cons of interlines and codeshares for aviation industry
These airlines for the better part of one year have been in discussions and have shown understanding of the concept and the need for collaborations and partnerships instead of the usual unhealthy competition that has somewhat weakened indigenous carriers’ bargaining chip and left them hanging.
The airlines took a bold step to change the narrative in the industry, introducing a historic first code share alliance between them, the Dana-Ibom Alliance, something that has not happened ever in domestic air travel.
For code shares or any sort of agreement to work indeed it needs both a legal framework the it does not happen by coercion as it must be entered into based on commercial decisions and free volition unlike what many erroneously think and canvass.
Another thing is finding the right partners, with like philosophy and ideology who will constantly bring something innovative to the table to aid the partnership growth and both parties agree that they have found partners with philosophies similar to theirs and are ready to work it.
Chief Operating Officer Ibom Air, George uriesi who gave the opening remarks at the signing said, ” it took finding the right partner with the same mind set as yours, with the same philosophy committed to provide the basics to the customers, schedule reliability, on-time performance and excellent service essentially the philosophies that tie the two airlines. And I am happy to say Dana was the right fit.”
“We are very hopeful that this the beginning of a new and better way of doing business in our country and we are looking at a very fruitful alliance that hopefully other airlines will join in with us or start something. We are very happy about this, Ureisi said.
Difficult as it is to enter any agreement in the aviation sector, both players Ibom Air and Dana Air saw a gap that if filled, will open a vista of opportunities for a new way to conduct business in a sector where there is shared capacity,transparency and accountability.
However, the dynamics of this code share between Dana Air and Ibom Air is unique in that it is domestic and it opens up to possibilities, something that industry stakeholders have clamored for in different guises. Simply put, it is the kind of catalyst that the industry has been seeking.
And although nothing is ruled out yet in the horizon of this Dana-Ibom Alliance, the team says the partnership is not a merger stressing that they have only decided to deepen a relationship that has been budding over time.
Accountable Manager/Chief operating Officer of Dana Air, Mr. Obi Mbanuzuo said,” From last year, Dana and Ibom Air had re-protection agreement; a re-protection agreement is for irregular operations where there is a problem. We don’t advertise it out there because it is not for regular operations; we have had that agreement whereby if either airline has a problem or a situation, we help each other out.
“This is the next step of the process, we had a lower level agreement before but we are taken it further because we saw the benefits of that previous agreement. We thought what the next step is and we said the next step is looking even deeper.
“Before COVID-19 hit, Dana was operating into Uyo if you remember but when Ibom Air provides excellent service with Dana Air, we have a hundred and fifty-seven seater and suddenly we are putting over capacity into the market, now with Dana Air, we can make sure the customers are served and we do not put over capacity, instead we deploy that capacity elsewhere for the benefit of both Dana and Ibom. What we can do is deploy our extra capacity for a market that has demand and Ibom gets a bit of that demand. Ibom can put a code on us and we get to keep our passengers that want to fly on us . We can also put our code on Ibom Service and so that is where this came from”
Chief Operating Officer Ibom Air, George Uriesi modestly explained that neither Ibom or Dana could provide ready stats to buttress how the code share would benefit both airlines but stressed that in the next few months, after this partnership must have taken root the airline would quantify the benefits proper.
“It’s hard to say right now. If you have asked me this question, six months down the line, I would have had evidence. Our business before the code share and our business after the code share. But what I can say is airline seat is a very perishable item, once that flight leaves any seats that are not occupied have perished forever. And so the airline needs as many people as possible on seats on an aeroplane. “
Uriesi further gave a hypothetical analysis on how the code share is expected to grow both airlines by creating capacity stating:
“We have a flight where we have 65 passengers and then we close the door and go with our 65, but if because of the interline, 15 more passengers join, instead of 65 we are carrying 80,that is 15 more passengers because of Dana and Vice Versa and if you cumulate that over a month, you’d be surprised how many extra passengers come on you flight as a result of this alliance and you can easily calculate that and you can see exactly how much more optimal your business is because of Dana.”
Partnerships are difficult to put together and this alliance has been in the works for a year with both airlines opening their books to each other and creating trust and bond, but no code share can survive without the open books and a lot of financial integration.
And so when asked on their stand with regards financial integration and a clearing house system, Uriesi had this to say: “Between us yes, we’ve painstakingly put together one( clearing house) between us… and we are open to sourcing or utilizing any resource out there that makes it easy not harder, easier. But we will work harder to make it work
Both Uriesi and Mbanuzuo agreed that both airlines would be synergizing in a lot of ways apart from putting codes on each other’s aircraft agreeing there are plans up to carrying out maintenance from their hangars.
Uriesi said,”Ours is not just on the passenger level, we plan to synergize in many ways , even synergize to other things up to maintenance at some point, we are going to try to join forces to work together as an airline.
From everything said, there are indications that the alliance aims to expand into uncharted routes by either airline and create something stronger and better, worthy of partnership.
Plus the Dana-Ibom Alliance feels this is the first of its kind and it will also motivate others to look at the advantages of friendly collaboration and even establishing their own partnership instead of fierce rivalry stressing that the alliance once it gets it perfectly will not be adverse to adding new and willing members.
Nigeria is most often touted to be over 200 million strong but has less than 6%of that population travelling annually and this potential is only dwarfed by the fact that the country is situated in the perfect position as the trigger of Africa being equi-distant to major destinations world over.
And if it gets its alliances right and plans perfectly, the country’s airlines could play a major role as the African Union is currently pushing for a Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) to come into play, opening the continent’s airspace.
Partnerships like the Dana-Ibom Alliance are one way of preparing the nations for that next level of competition instead of bickering and agitating.
And already, it would seem there are plans in the works to explore virgin routes for these airlines and provide the litmus test this ground breaking agreement that may revolutionalize air travel in ways that would be talked about in the industry for years to come