By Lawani Mikairu
Air Peace airline commencement of international routes operation with the inaugural flight to Dubai/ Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, UAE, on Friday 5th July has received a thunderous ovation from aviation stakeholders who feel that a Nigeria airline with the right business model, considering the fleet size, is entering international operation to make the country proud.
The Dubai/ Sharjah route is the first step in Air Peace’s huge international expansion plans, with ambitions to fly as far as Houston, United States of America and Guangzhou, China. The airline will operate the UAE three times a week using one of its Boeing 777s.
Recall Air Peace set a domestic record as the first Nigerian airline to acquire and register the Boeing 777 aircraft in the country. Three of the four wide-body aircraft it acquired for its long-haul operations to Dubai, Sharjah, Johannesburg, London, Houston, Guangzhou and Mumbai have so far been delivered.
The choice of the UAE route has also been commended. According to Mr Andrew Curran, a veteran aviator, “The ties between Nigeria and the UAE extend beyond oil. Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, with a population tipped to reach 400 million by 2050. Fast population growth and a rising GDP offer significant investment opportunities, and the UAE is already one of the largest investors in West Africa. The new Air Peace flights between Lagos and Sharjah can leverage from these links”.
However, others have called on the airline to be very conscious of its choice of destinations to operate to as the Middle East routes are currently dominated by big world airlines like Emirates and Qatar airlines who are capable of deliberately crashing airfare in order to run a competitor out of the routes. But some frequent travelers told Saturday Vanguard that they are confident that Air Peace will not make the same mistakes other domestic Nigeria airlines who ventured into the Middle East routes made.
The former Director General, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, and current Rector, International Aviation College, Ilorin, Engineer Benedict Adeyileka while reacting , told Saturday Vanguard in an exclusive interview that ,: “ This is a brilliant idea by Air Peace. It is a good thing for Nigeria. It is about time Nigeria airlines rose to the challenges posed by capital flight, boosting employment and helping the economy. Now, going to Sharjah, I know it is going to be challenging because I know we will be competing with big airlines like Emirates. However, it is a good thing”.
“Nigerians from records have always patronized Nigeria airlines. But to be honest with you, Nigeria airlines have not performed well. They have disappointed the passengers and they have not been managed properly. Though this is due to unfair competition we get from oversea countries. So, I think it is a good idea and I will support it. If any Nigerian airline operates internationally, I will patronize them. I have patronized Arik Air . I have patronized MedView when the two airlines were going to Europe and Arik to America. I will patronize any Nigeria airline that comes up. I am going to patronize Air Peace.”
Andrew Osigwe who introduced himself as an international businessman and has flown in many foreign airlines for his business trips said he was confident Air Peace will succeed in international routes operations. According to him, “the management of the airline is conscious of having the right fleet size and modern planes that can be deployed for these operations. I am aware Air Peace recently placed order for brand new planes and have been planning and taking their time in starting these new international routes.”
“Other Nigeria domestic airlines failed in their international operations because there was no proper planning. If smaller countries airlines are succeeding in these routes, why can’t Air Peace ? Is it rocket science?. My brother, it ( Air Peace) will make it. I have flown in the airline several times and they have good aircraft. They will make Nigerians to now have a choice and call the bluff of these foreign airline who sometimes take Nigerian passengers for granted.”
Reacting, Mr Olayinka Abioye, immediate past General Secretary, National Union of Air Transport Employees, NUATE, when contacted by Saturday Vanguard said : “ Lets first congratulate the Management and Staff of Air Peace for this landmark achievement. However, pertinent questions begging for answers are…does Air Peace have what it takes to compete favourably with Emirates? How does she intend to attract customers ? Price reduction or what?
“I asked this simply because all Gulf States airlines enjoy some form of subsidy from their governments. Nigeria government has not shown she has capacity to help our airlines in this direction. As an optimist, if Air Peace is not anxious to make profits immediately, and can be patient in understanding the routes and customer preferences, then its good to go. I also hope they will respect international standards and recommended practices”.
Speaking also with Saturday Vanguard, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) , the former commandant of the Muritala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, said : “It’s a wrong route to start with. Sharjar is a connecting point or hub; which airline would Air Peace be partnering with? Can Air Peace compete in airfare with Airlines on that route? Time will tell”.
When told that the airline will likely go into code sharing, he said ,”Whichever airline goes into code sharing may have to reduce its frequencies to Nigeria or to Air Peace final destination; at what cost to the airline or to Air Peace? Either way, the cost of air fare to the passenger will be the determinant factor”.
“In Aviation, build your own routes based on your own market. Do not jump into a fast flowing river against the current, leading to another one .Create a hub, consolidate your own market and take your market to their destination, not to the hub of another. People want to travel to their destination not to another bus stop. Never, never, ever repeat the mistakes of others, but learn their lessons, note their mistakes and learn, if you can’t do it better, more, efficiently, leave it alone”.
Ojikutu further said, “the best or only option for Nigerian carrier on international routes is direct to London or any state east coast or central state of US; these are the major routes of Nigerian travellers. 50% of passengers on middle east airlines are Europe and US bound. If you go to Europe and US, you are in better standing than going east and you are very likely to reduce the 50% Europe and US bound on the middle east routes. Going east as a start, will be in competition with all middle east airlines and east, and central African airlines for the remaining 50%”. He added that “The question Air Peace needed to ask before venturing on the route was; out of the 2million international outbound passengers, how many are eastbound beyond the middle east? How many is it targeting to middle east and beyond in the code sharing? We have about 20 flights daily from Europe and US to Nigeria; we have less than 10 flights from middle east, east and central African daily but about 50% of passengers on these flights are still Europe and US bound so what is the sense in flying to the east and why not Europe or/and US?”.
There are indications however that Sharjah will not be a final destination for Air Peace. Feelers from the airline indicate that it could also be a transit point for the airline passengers going to far Asian as it will also operate the Guangzhou, China and Mumbai , India routes.