Aviation

October 24, 2021

Air Peace: Does Nigeria need a national carrier?

Air Peace

By Nnamdi Ojiego

This report x-rays the importance and role of a national carrier and how privately-owned airlines like Air Peace are filling the gap in the absence of government owned. Read on.

Following several failed attempts by the successive federal government of Nigeria to float or revive the now moribund national carrier, experts and industry stakeholders are of the view that an airline owned by the country may no longer be necessary since local airlines are filling the yawning gap created by the absence of a government-owned carrier.

 National Carrier

Historically, a national carrier was used to refer to airlines owned by the government of a country and associated with the national identity of that country. Nigeria’s national carrier operated by Nigeria Airways Limited was officially liquidated in 2004 after 46 years of existence, haven been established on August 23, 1958.

It is said to be the most successful airline in the country. Under the defunct airline, Nigeria developed enviable manpower in aviation, attained the height of conducting C-check on certain aircraft types and developed the aviation infrastructure that is being rehabilitated and expanded on after its demise. Therefore, it was a disappointment to many Nigerians who were already used to flying the airline when it stopped operations. This is even as promises by the successive federal government to revive the national carrier have remained a mirage to date.

In the absence of a national carrier, foreign airlines do well from the large and growing number of Nigerian passengers. Some of the successful foreign airlines and big players on the continent of Africa include Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa national carriers.

The existence of a national carrier in any country is often necessitated by the need to reciprocate air traffic in a situation where there are no capable local carriers, to represent the country in other climes and to create employment opportunities. Many airlines have tried without success, to give Nigerians a semblance of a national carrier in terms of size, facility, patriotism and national pride.

This was the story of Nigeria’s air transport until an indigenous airline, Air Peace, made its debut in October 2014. Air Peace, in its commitment and determination to provide safe, quality and affordable air travel, became Nigeria’s largest carrier. It solidified its operations both in Nigeria and beyond thereby ending the era when Nigerian carriers are being tagged ‘not capable’ to reciprocate traffic or represent Nigeria outside the shores of the country.

Since the airline made its forays into the difficult and turbulent aviation industry seven years ago, not many Nigerians saw any need for a national carrier again. Aviation pundits opined that Air Peace, though privately-owned, has filled the yawning gap created by the absence of a national carrier. It is the most stable of the airlines in the country and it is not by accident that the airlines account for about 40 per cent of 2018 total passengers on the local front.

 Job Creation

Air Peace, no doubt is the highest employing carrier in Nigeria, creating over 5,000 direct and indirect employments. This is a dream come true for the founder of the company, Chief Allen Onyema, whose major aim of floating an airline was to create jobs for teeming Nigerian youths.

“I didn’t go into aviation because I wanted to make more money. Airline business is not a profitable venture, it is capital intensive and very risky. The whole idea behind floating the airline was to create meaningful jobs for the critical mass of unemployed people in Nigeria and not because I wanted to be richer”, Onyema revealed.

 Diversity

Giving credence to that, Former acting Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and currently the Rector of International Aviation College, Ilorin, Benedict Adeyileka, said employment in Air Peace represents the diversity in Nigeria because every ethnicity and religion is represented from the top to the bottom.

“Air Peace reflects the diversity of Nigeria. No part of Nigeria that does not have somebody working in the establishment, from the top management to the Board of Directors there are Yorubas, Hausa, Igbos, Kogi, Igala, Niger Delta and he has also helped the country. Onyema tries to unite everybody and he looks at issues from the horizon of Nigeria. I think he needs to be commended because his motive is always to create jobs and provide succour to the people.”

 Capacity Building

Air Peace is also leading the way with an unprecedented investment in aircraft in its bid to make a strong case for Nigerian flag carriers on regional and international skies, even as no city is left behind on the home front. The airline has connected Nigerian cities more than any airline in recent times, opening up new routes like Benin to Port Harcourt, Asaba to Kano, Owerri to Kano and others. Currently, Air Peace operates 30 aircraft and has fully paid for 13 Embraer E195-E2, of which four had been delivered and all the 13 would be delivered before the end of 2022.

Speaking during the delivery of Air Peace fourth brand new aircraft, Embraer E195-E2 in Abuja recently, Onyema said, “We have new domestic routes that we want to deploy the aircraft to. We have new routes that we have just opened and more routes will still come in the coming months. We are opening Gombe very soon and we intend to open up this country. We will also connect North East with North West and other routes. Owerri-Kaduna and other routes will be connected.”

 Manpower Development

As Air Peace take delivery of the new aircraft, it is also training Nigerians on the new aircraft type. The company took young Nigerians to Embraer manufacturing facility in Sao Jose dos Campos (San Jose) where they spent months and become the new crop of pilots and engineers trained on the aircraft type in the world. With over 3000 indigenous workers from different parts of the country, Air Peace has spent huge resources on manpower development.

 Xenophobic Attacks

Air Peace became a household name in Africa when it evacuated Nigerians from South Africa during the Xenophobia violence in that country. Not a few were aghast when a privately owned airline in Nigeria took the responsibility of the government and offered to evacuate Nigerians from the violence in Johannesburg and other cities in South Africa. The evacuation put Air Peace on the front burner in the continent that other African countries arranged to also evacuate their citizens from the Rainbow country.

On why he embarked on the humanitarian exercise that cost his company overN300million, the Air Peace boss said: “It’s just one’s passion for one’s country. What I did in South Africa was spontaneous. I saw the xenophobic attacks on television when we were in a meeting at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) headquarters. I immediately called on my other brother airlines for us to send a jet each to South Africa to evacuate Nigerians but my colleagues didn’t take me seriously. I said, ‘I’m going to do it and I did it.”

 COVID-19 Evacuations

The airline’s act of patriotism was once again witnessed in 2020 during the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic that ravaged the whole world. The company carried out a critical assignment for the federal government when it brought medical supplies and experts to Nigeria from China, Turkey, etc and evacuated many stranded Nigerians from different countries to their fatherland. Air Peace brought back over 4, 302 Nigerians from different parts of the world during the lockdown.

 Safety

Air Peace has made safety its watchword, no wonder the airline has never experienced any major safety issue since its inception. Onyema reveals what the airline is doing differently to ensure the safety of passengers. “ We make safety our priority. We put safety and uphold safety in our operations. As you know, everybody wants to fly safely. And I’m sure a lot of people know that we have zero tolerance for unsafe practices. We spend a lot on aircraft spares and aircraft maintenance. We don’t cut corners and we don’t divert funds meant for the airline to any other thing.”

 Nigeria’s Project

Recently, Air Peace signed a partnership agreement with the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) as the official airline sponsor of the Super Eagles and Nigerian national teams. This demonstrates the patriotic spirit of the founder and his commitment to Nigerian Football.

Commending the gesture, the NFF President, Amaju Pinnick, said, “Air Peace epitomizes unity, patriotism, humanity and selflessness. We at the NFF have followed not only the meteoric rise of the company but its patriotic fervour and sense of nationalism. It is an organisation that believes firmly in the Nigeria project, just as we do.”

 Youth Empowerment

Air Peace is currently partnering with the biggest youth empowering reality shows, the Gulder Ultimate Search, and the Next Titan. According to the airline, the reason for sponsoring youth-friendly programmes was to support the Nigerian youths. “We’re happy to be partnering with the biggest youth empowering reality show. Through this partnership, we’ll support the tenacity and resilience of young Nigerians. It’s our way of cheering them on to success. The GUS and The Next Titan align with a major founding principle of Air Peace – youth empowerment”, Onyema stated.

 Turbulent Condition

It has not been all Uhuru for the Air Peace airline. The aviation industry is a challenging and turbulent one especially, in this part of the world where modern equipment and requisite manpower are acutely lacking. So, the airline is not immune from the challenges facing operators in the country. Indigenous carriers spend huge of money on maintenance and training.

Air Peace boss confirmed this when he said that “Every C-check is taken abroad. Air Peace, as I speak to you, has about 21 planes abroad. Each of those planes will not take less than $3 million or even $5 million in most cases before they come back. By the time you do it to about 21 planes, you will be spending over $100 million and that money will go to the outside world. So, imagine this being done here, it will help the economy to generate more jobs.”

The global airline industry has become fiercely competitive. According to Flight Global, 37 airlines ceased operations in 2017 alone. Therefore, it is gladdening to know that Air Peace has become the most stable airlines in Nigeria and it’s living up to its mission amid difficult and turbulent operating conditions.

 National Assignment

Air Peace has played and still plays the supposed role of a national carrier both in carrying the national identity, capacity building and job creation. It is, therefore, instructive to query the existence of a national carrier where there is a capable airline already not only representing the country in every facet.

Tayo Ojuri, the chief executive officer of Aglow Limited, an aviation support services company, noted that in a situation “where all these factors are met by operating local carriers, it may be questionable to set up a national carrier, especially in a country that is currently facing an economic downturn and battling with basic needs such as basic health care, housing, electricity, and good roads, amongst others.”

Speaking in the same direction, the Managing Director of Flight Logistics Solutions, Amos Akpan, added that, “Air Peace has closed the gap provided by the absence of Nigeria Airways. So in the absence of a national carrier, Air Peace filled a very important gap. Just imagine air travel in Nigeria today without Air Peace? The airline is the largest employer of labour by a private investor in the industry and this has helped in the unity brand because it employed from every part of the country,” Akpan said.

 Rewards

Both Air Peace and its chairman, Chief Onyema, have received many awards of recognition for service to Nigeria and Nigerians. Onyema was recently recognised with the Exceptional Philanthropist of the Year Award by The Sun newspaper for his unequalled philanthropy, peacemaking efforts, diplomacy and reconciliation.

 Support

Though the Federal Government has assisted indigenous airline operators including Air Peace in so many ways especially, in the areas of tax holidays for imported aircraft and parts, more support and encouragement are needed not only from the government but from Nigerians, to protect and promote this brand that has brought honour and pride to the country.