…Allen Onyema speaks on first international operation to UAE
…Explains why he has been acquiring planes
After a successful Air Peace airline Dubai/ Sharjah route launch, the chairman of the airline, Barrister Allen Onyema in this interview reveals some of the future plans of the airline and the current challenges. Excerpts:
The challenge to Nigerian airlines operating international service is how to take passengers beyond point to point. Does Air Peace have code-share partner for your Dubai operation?
First and foremost I thank God almighty for what happened yesterday and what we are seeing today. I thank Nigerians for their support and the media for their support and I thank the Federal Government for its support too.
We have started our international operations into Sharjah and into UAE (United Arab Emirates) and we are not just doing Lagos-Sharjah alone, we are also doing every destination in Nigeria to Sharjah and Dubai.
We have an agreement with SATA. They are the ones in charge of Air Arabia and some other airlines. So we have an agreement with SATA, with the consent of Air Arabia and others to act on their behalf as a middleman.
So when we bring our passengers through SATA on to Air Arabia they will take them to the next destinations outside Sharjah, so that’s what it is. And it is a very seamless arrangement. So when we check you in, in Nigeria and, for example, if you are going to Jeddah, Mumbai, Medina, New Delhi and some other cities in India and of course even up to Moscow, we put you through SATA or Air Arabia to take you to the next destination.
So when you check in your luggage in Nigeria, you will get it at the next destination. Assuming we have connecting passengers like this one, it is a straight connection, we don’t unburden the person’s luggage, we take it to the next flight. It is seamless arrangement. So, Air Peace is a one-stop shop for people travelling to some cities in Asia.
Now that you have started international flights and you have acquired long-haul aircraft, Boeing 777, what other destinations are you looking at?
Apart from Sharjah, you know the federal government of Nigeria has given us some six destinations, Mumbai, Guangzhou, China, Atlanta, Houston (US), Heathrow (London) and Johannesburg (South Africa). We have started Sharjah (Dubai); the next to come in is Johannesburg. The Nigerian government was magnanimous to give us our destinations some three years ago. We have written to these countries since then but it took them a long time to respond to us.
This is why I keep on talking about open sky in Africa, the Single Africa Air Travel Market (SAATM). Sometimes I say SAATM is a fraud against Nigeria because while our country keeps to the principles of SAATM, other countries that endorsed it have refused to abide by those principles for Nigerian airlines.
We made requests to these countries but it took them three years to answer us. It was the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) that intervened on our behalf as we pilled pressure on those countries before they answered us. I remain grateful to NCAA and the federal government.
So South Africa has given us the permit now for us to come in. They have audited Air Peace and they have found us okay to come into their country, so they have given us the permit to come. We have already started setting up our structures in South Africa, Johannesburg. And at the same time we are looking for a partnering airline in Johannesburg so that when we drop you in Johannesburg our partnering airline will take you to Cape Town, Durban Port Elizabeth and others cities and even beyond South Africa, to Lesotho and to some other neighbouring countries around.
We are looking for partner airlines to do that. Air Peace does not just want to do Lagos to Johannesburg only, we want to be able to have these alliances with other airlines to be able to move Nigerians and the flying public seamlessly to destinations they will want to go. I believe that will help us to succeed in the long run. This is what our airlines were not doing before, so we are learning from that. We are not going to start South Africa without having an agreement with partnering airline, which we are already very close to signing.
So any moment now we think we are going to start Johannesburg before August 30, 2019. And by then we must have signed a kind of arrangement with another partnering airline. After Johannesburg, the next in line is India, depending on what happens, we might be starting India and South Africa almost the same time or at most September by God’s Grace.
The Indian community in Nigeria is yearning for Air Peace to come in. You must have heard from their Ambassador in Nigeria. They want a direct flight from Nigeria to India; so they are in the forefront, they are the ones pushing and the federal government has designated Air Peace to that destination. The federal government even wrote them to support us. So I thank President Muhammadu Buhari for that support. They have written the Indian government urging them to support us. We have even employed Chief Security for Air Peace because that is part of the Indian requirement.
You must employ somebody who has been in their military or any of their forces as your chief security officer and he must be a citizen of India, we have already done that in India. They recommended somebody to us and he is highly placed. So we have done that, it is just some little more process remaining, so I am sure by God’s Grace at most second week of September Air Peace will be flying to Mumbai. And we are looking forward to discussing with Air India, their national carrier, which has a better spread to be able to connect us within India. And their government also is urging us to partner with Air India.
In the near future and after we have succeeded in these first three international destinations, we would look at flying to Guangzhou. We planned to do international routes. When we started this airline we outlined our growth pattern and we have religiously followed it. So when Air Peace was importing one Boeing 777 after another and bringing them and keeping them at Lagos international airport, we were criticized.
We had to do so because if you wish to fly to China, for example, if you don’t have up to three long-haul aircraft they won’t give you the permit. So when we knew this, we went to China to present our papers and the Nigerian Ambassador in China cooperated with us, he really helped us. And that gave me hope because we came from a country called Nigeria. The man took us like his brothers and took us everywhere we needed to go and helped us and made it very easy for us. That is why I believe that the government of Present Mohammadu Buhari is very, very eager to change the economic narrative of Nigeria. He is a pan Nigeria nationalist. There is no doubt about that. He is very eager to support indigenous investment.
We pray that other people, all the civil servants and appointees should also imbibe the vision of the President and everything will be okay. When we went to Beijing, we were given utmost cooperation. The Nigerian Ambassador did everything possible to make it easy for Air Peace. But as at that time our third plane had not arrived. You see, before they give you permit, you must show them the registration of your three aircraft, either by way of dry lease or outright purchase. And most importantly in the outright purchase they prefer that you own it before they can give you permit. So we went about trying to equip Air Peace in such a way that we won’t go out there in the international arena and not be able to face competition.
Now, let me tell you, if Air Peace did not buy the number of aircraft we bought, yesterday (Friday, July 5), we would have disappointed Nigerians. We dropped the first aircraft we wanted to use because at 2:00 pm the previous day, a snag showed up, these are man-made machines, but assuming we had only one aircraft, that flight would have been cancelled. You know what that would have done. We were sweating, but because we had backup, we rolled out our Boeing 777-300, which even had more capacity and opened it up and within hours people were boarding it.
So if we didn’t have that capacity we wouldn’t have been able to operate. So, that is why we went out there acquiring more and more and we are still acquiring. There are two more that are about to come because we really want to make Nigeria proud. God willing, before the end of this year, Air Peace will own six Boeing 777.
Many national carriers in Africa are approaching Air Peace to give them aircraft. We want to give some of them planes, we have signed the agreement already sooner or later you will see it. I am sure the authorities know because they have visited Nigeria already.
- TO BE CONTINUED