By Muhammad Ajah
The Nigerian foremost airliners in Hajj operations, Max Air and Medview have been approved by the federal government to transport the Nigerian pilgrims to and from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the 2018 Hajj slated to commence third week of July. This is in addition to two other local carriers, Azman Air Services and Top Brass and two Saudi-based carriers Flynas and Fly Prime. Two companies were approved as cargo services to airfreight pilgrims’ excess luggage. They are Cargo Zeal Technologies Limited and Medview International Travels and Cargoes.
Both Max Air and Medview have been in the Hajj industry for over two decades with proven expertise. Both of them have acquired enough capacities over the years and have performed wonderfully to the satisfaction of the federal government which should consider the possibilities of granting them carryover as it happened at the advent of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). Carryover implies that the airliners were assured of participating in the subsequent airlift operations. That gave them the confidence to prepare and deliver faithfully throughout the periods.
According to the aviation division of NAHCON, the airlift of Nigerian pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia will start from the 21st of July to 20th September, 2018. The Saudi airspace for Hajj operations will open on 15th July and close on 11th August, while Nigerian pilgrims will commence their return trips to motherland on 28th August. It is expected that a large percentage of the pilgrims will land in Madinah, a feat that the present administration of the commission has achieved in the last few years. The feat has eased the controversy that often surrounded the Miqat palaver which, although resolved by the commission through the national ulama team, has remained mismanaged by some scholars of sects.
As required by the instant federal government’s regulations, NAHCON placed adverts in six national dailies for interested airline operators to airlift Nigerian intending pilgrims for 2018 Hajj. It was also placed on the website of the commission. The six airliners applied and met with the requirements. Three cargo operators applied but two qualified. A 28-man screening committee led by NAHCON’s commissioner of operations, Alhaji Abdullahi Modibbo Saleh alongside 10-man secretariat subjected the applicants to rigorous procedural exercises. The committee was made of experts from the aviation industry, such as Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) and the Nigeria Customs Service and representatives from other key stakeholders in Hajj operations. For transparency, the events were even recorded and during the price negotiations, NAHCON fought for reduction of the prices against the 2017 Hajj or at least maintenance of status quo.
The airliners attempted to prove beyond doubts the need to increase the airfare due to the increase in other requirements they need for the operations. After tough negotiations, it was agreed that pilgrims from Maiduguri and Yola departure centers of NAHCON will pay US$1600, pilgrims from other departure centers within the northern states will pay US$1650 while those from the southern states will pay US$1700. These were the airfares last year.
At the inauguration of the screening committee, Medview called on NAHCON to give more allocations to indigenous carriers, since it would create employment opportunities for many citizens. The airline, however, commended the commission for the transparency and accountability it had displayed in the handling, screening and selection of air carriers since its inception in 2006. Media consultant of the company, Obuke Oyibhota, added that Medview was capable and ready for the pilgrims for the 2018 Hajj. The airlines proposed aircrafts they will use for the operations. Max Air proposed four: 3NOS B747-400, 5N-DBK, 5N-HMM and 5N-HMB. Medview proposed three: B747-400, B767-30ER and B777-200. Flynass proposed seven: B747 (ER-BAC), B747, A330, A330, A330, B767 and B767. Others proposed different aircrafts in their fleet.
While signing the airlift agreements, the chairman of the commission, Bar. Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, charged them to braze up for the operations and ensure delivery of the best services to the Nigerian pilgrims and stressed that the level of their commitment and services rendered will determine the continued patronage by NAHCON. He expressed his appreciation for the patriotism displayed by the Nigerian local carriers who helped in bringing respite in the 2018 Hajj fares.
It will be recalled that Max Air Limited recently ventured into the Nigerian domestic air transport market in addition to its usual Hajj and Umrah operations. Vice Chairman of the company, Alhaji Bashir Mangal, said the local operations cover Abuja, Lagos and Kano routes, while other routes like Sokoto, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt and Yola will follow subsequently. He said that Max Air got its Air Operation Certificate (AOC) from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in 2007 and had been operating in Nigeria mainly in Hajj and Umrah operations since then. According to him, the airline has in its fleet a number of Boeing 737-300, 737-400 and 737-500 as well as wide body B747-600 and 747-700 to operate with. In his move in 2018 to reposition Mangal Airlines its owner, Alhaji Dahiru Mangal, re-branded to Max Air. As at January 2018, the company, with its headquarters in Kano has five aircrafts in its fleet.
“We are not new in Nigerian aviation market, we have been here for about 15 years now and we got our Air Operation Certificate (AOC) since over 10 years ago doing Hajj and Umrah and worldwide charter. By the grace of God, we are going to do our best to contribute to the development of Nigerian aviation industry and we will try to cover all the destinations in Nigeria within the shortest possible time”, Bashir Mangal posited.
Medview has been a giant in the local and international airspace. According to the 2017 Annual report signed by the Company’s Secretary, Abdullahi Adam Abdullahi, Medview Airline Plc. became listed on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) on January 31st 2017, with (Medviewair) as the company’s symbol. The company is principally owned by Nigerians and a major Saudi partner and operates within the aviation industry of the Nigerian economy, holding specific safety approvals and commercial licenses to carry fare-paying passengers or cargo for which consideration has been made. The licenses include: Air Transport License (ATL), Air Operators Certificate (AOC), Air Carriers Permit (ACP) and Route (Designation). In addition to these licenses, it holds the IATA identifier-code (VL) and ICAO airline identifier-code (MEV).
Medview which, according to the managing director, Alhaji Munir Bankole means “Madinah View” has airlifted about 3,500,000 passengers and a total of 46, 000,000 tons of cargo airlifted in partnership with Saudi Arabia Cargo Airline annually. Medview started operating direct flight to Gatwick International Airport in the United Kingdom since 2015. It operates scheduled Jeddah and Dubai flights since 2017. Other direct destinations regionally are within the Anglo and Francophone West African countries. It currently operates in 18 cities around the world.
As for the Saudi-based Flynas, its entry into the airlift operations of Nigerian pilgrims dates back to 2014 when it airlifted 9,500 pilgrims from Abuja and Kaduna airports to Saudi Arabia. This was in fulfillment of a bilateral agreement between Nigeria and the host country. This was after many years of opposition by Nigeria to the Saudi Aviation Authority’s demand of 50% share of Nigerian pilgrims as it does with other countries of the world participating in Hajj every year. Since then, the company has perfumed creditably wonderful. It has also eased many operational hiccups which usually faced Nigerian airlift operations in the Kingdom. The direct flight of Nigerian pilgrims to Madinah was largely enhanced by its advent and Nigerian pilgrims who have travelled with it have had good experiences and testimonies to give. It is also ready to deliver eve better services for 2018 Hajj.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.