By Lawani Mikairu
Air Peace has celebrated its first year anniversary. Chairman of the airline, Barrister Allen Onyema told a gathering of well wishers and customers who gathered in Lagos how he almost jettisoned the idea of setting up Air Peace because of frustration in getting Air Operator Certificate, AOC,. Onyema later fielded question from aviation reporters. Excerpts:
On what has been the experience this last one year, Onyema said “ First and foremost the honour and glory belongs to God almighty. We are very grateful for what God has done in the life of this young airline in the past 24 months. Actually we commenced commercial flight operations on the 24th of October 2014, therefore on the 24th of October 2015 Air Peace clocked one year.
It is has not been smooth but I thank God almighty that Air Peace has come to stay. A lot of people didn’t give us the chance of the benefit of doubt that we will be where we are today but I think, looking at all the figures and every yardstick Air Peace is the airline to beat now. Some of the few strides or mile stones recorded in the last one year in terms of passenger figures according to Onyema “ Air Peace is an airline of many first. We started creating records right from day one.
On October 24th last year, on the day we commenced flight Air Peace had 14 revenue flights on that day. It has never happened in this country before and I am sure in the whole of Africa. No new airline on its inaugural day has done that, it is only Air Peace of Nigeria that has been able to do that. So on our first day we started creating record, God almighty made it possible for that to happen.
While other airlines will normally do Lagos-Abuja with family and friends on their first flight, in the evening they will come back to Lagos with family and friends. Air Peace started with revenue flights not only Lagos and Abuja but also in five other locations. On the first day we did Owerri, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Lagos, clocking about 14 flights in one day and airlifting over 300 revenue passengers on that day.
So it has never happened before, this is the first time any airline will be doing that. Beside the fact that this is a first time an airline is starting with a fleet of more than two aircraft, we started with seven from day one. So we have been making waves right from day one, with God one our side it has been possible. Again under one week we were able to have carried the number of passengers no airline has been able to do in their first seven days.
So considering our limited number of fleet-7, we have also been doing over 70 percent load factor in the last five months. So these are strides that are not usual with a new airline. At times a lot of people in this country think that Air Peace has been there for over a decade, it is just a new airline. But we decided to make sure we get things right, we started from day one to make a difference.
On the number of passengers airlifted so far, he said “In the last eleven months we have airlifted over 500 thousand passengers in less than five months and that is very remarkable. It is not with twenty aircraft but just with five out of the seven, steadily scheduled to fly. Again, within this same period Air Peace was called upon to undertake the development of a new route, that is the Kebbi international airport.
it has never happened with a new airline before, this is the first time in les than three months into our operations, in fact less than two months into our operations, the Kebbi State government signed up Air Peace because from day one we showed strength, capacity and we showed a lot of zeal towards doing the right thing. So that will be the first time a new airline will be doing that.
He revealed that there is plan at further expansion on the domestic scene and looking at the West African sub region as a frontier market. He said “Like I said we started with five locations at a time we added Asaba making it six, when we discovered that Asaba was a dangerous field we pulled out of Asaba. We were the first airline to do that because we have zero tolerance to unsafe operation. Anything that is unsafe count Air Peace out.
I am from the South Eastern part of this country and I know how dear they hold Air Peace so taken off Asaba was not an easy decision but it was a decision born out of commitment to safety. It was a decision taken over and above business considerations, but for the safety of our passengers. And I am sure other airlines, we all knew that Asaba was unsafe, the Asaba runway was unsafe. I knew the easterners wanted Air Peace so badly, I knew I would have been making maybe 80% or 90% passenger load factor but I decided to take that decision.
All it took me to remove Asaba was one day I landed with an executive jet there and I discovered that my plane was bumping, bumping and I called my director of flight operations, I said refund every money taken from everybody in this area. We are going to stop operations into Asaba, so we pulled out our Boeing from going to Asaba, that was how we ended the Asaba flight operations.
And this decision was taken with every sense of patriotism, every sense of commitment to safety and safe practices. That was why we did it and I am sure it was when I gave a press conference that Asaba was an accident waiting to happen that the federal government decided to act. So these are the thing in Air Peace we do, it is not about making money because there is no money in aviation to start with. We are here to create jobs, that is my happiness, that is my vision, that is my conviction that I should put food on the tables of numerous unemployed Nigerians.
That is why I went into aviation in the first place. So we removed Asaba, we put in Calabar, we also have increased our frequencies in some of the other airports for example we do four flights from Lagos to Abuja daily, four out of Abuja to Lagos daily. We do two flights into Owerri from Lagos daily and two from Oweri into Lagos daily. We have even commenced two flights from Owerri into Abuja daily and two back into Owerri.
We are doing about four or six flights out of Port Harcourt, so we have increased our frequencies and for your information about six months into our operations we added two more aircraft into our fleet making it nine. Another two months down the line maybe about eight months into our operations we acquired two more Boeing, making it eleven.
He also said the airline runs an open door policy “If you ask my baggage handler where we are today he or she will be able to tell you. Communication trickles down, it is not a one man thing, yes one man and his family could own the airline but the governance structure of Air Peace gives room for other people to contribute. You could see a young lady of less than 35 years is the managing director of Air Peace.
I just woke up one night, because I always recognize quality and made our safety manager in the person of Toyin Olajide, our Chief Operating Officer, that is the managing director. Because I have to remove myself from the day to day running, this is somebody who has had experience with Dana, Belview and others, even in her young age and the rest is history, you could see what she could do.
In Air Peace we do not know tribe, nor tongue, nor religion. I am an Igbo man, I own Air Peace 100% with my wife and children but in my appointments, you have a Yoruba as my managing director which I appointed way down the line, you have a Yoruba as my human resources manager, that is a very powerful department that can wreck or ruin you or make you. You have an Igbo as my director of engineering, you have a northerner in the accounts.
So Nigerians of all tribe and creed are here and they will tell you that nobody considered their religion or their ethnicity as at the time of employment. My doors are open, that is how we run this place. On safety and maintenance, Onyema said “And again in order to ensure safety we decided to outsource our maintenance. Everything about aviation or commercial flight operations is about maintenance. You can buy a new plane today if you don’t follow the schedule of maintenance that plane will fall out of the sky, it is all about maintenance.
So realizing that maintenance is very key and critical to issues of safety, we decided to outsource our maintenance to United Kingdom based maintenance organization in the BCT, BCT aviation Maintenance Company of United kingdom I brought them here at a huge cost, they are here in nigeria maintaining all our fleet 24/7. In fact they are so strict that the order day some items in the first aid box were short of the required number, they grounded the aircraft from flying and passengers were asked to come down.
They refused to sign off that plane just because of that. But you know all over the world people could manage that and say when we come back, but they refused. And when they were having problems with some of our staff they quickly called me and I supported them. I told them to ride on, I apologize to the passengers for the delay but what is right must be done and should be done.
So in Air Peace we don’t cut corners, we strive to excel, we strive to do the right things and when Nigerians fly us they should just go and sleep nothing will happen. Air Peace will never fall off the sky to the glory and honour of God almighty. It will never happen because we have done that which we are supposed to do. I am looking up to God and God has been with us and I could see and feel the hand of God on this airline because of so many things we have done are just not ordinary.
We have the best pilots in the land, all the chief pilots of other airlines in the country are here flying for Air Peace. One thing staff want to look at is structure. What is the structure put in place in any company? If you think the structure will not protect your future, you don’t blame them for looking for greener pasture. They have seen the kind of structure we do here. When you talk about safety in aviation, safety does not begin and end with how you maintain the plan, with how new the planes is, the workforce of your airline is very, very important.
How are they motivated? How is the workforce of you airline motivated? If they are ill motivated that will become a source of worry to safety. For example if you are owing a worker five months salary or four months salary, that worker might be pushed into doing something. He can weigh a 50kg load, you give to him and say please take this to Abuja for me, he will collect five thousand from behind and put into his pocket and load that into your aircraft.
He maybe loading a bomb, so you don’t say I have brown new planes, I maintain my planes, maybe tomorrow I will start claiming that I pay BCT almost 100 million every month to maintain Air Peace because of that I will relax. Staff welfare and motivation: “The most important thing is the human resources. The human resources of your airline how are they motivated? In Air Peace we do not owe salaries because we cut our coat according to the size of the materials we have.
So we make sure salaries in Air Peace are paid on the 25th of every month, if 25th falls on a Saturday we pay it on 24th being Friday. If 25th falls on Sunday we pay it on the 23rd. these are not hidden facts, not because we have money because my person since 1992 when I started floating my own companies, because where I served as a lawyer they were owing me, so I said when I formed my own company I am not going to own anybody.
So I knew the pains, from 1992 when I started floating my own companies I make sure my staff are paid on the 25th of every month. And I have carried on like that not because I have money, my business principle is mankind friendly. I don’t look at the profit or money, if we are not making any profit yet I don’t look at that. I plan our payment in such a way that nobody comes to me, I don’t like debts, I am a very proud person so I don’t want somebody to come to me tomorrow and say Allen Onyema is owing me three months salary or two months’ salary.