Air Peace: Resilience in route expansion amid turbulent times

The recent launch of direct flight services between Lagos, Nigeria, and Johannesburg, South Africa, by Air Peace, Nigeria’s major carrier, amid ravaging coronavirus pandemic, may have shown a lot about the vision and resilience of the airline, writes SADE WILLIAMS.

 

After a successful launch of its first international operations into Dubai via Sharjah in July 2019, Air Peace has aggressively continued to pursue its vision by immediately launching the second international route into Johannesburg, December 17, 2020.

While airlines, even big ones in Europe and Americas are still grappling with recovery from the pandemic, Air Peace may be showing resilience through its no-city-left behind mantra and vision, by bringing alive again, the once rested Lagos-Johannesburg direct operation.

As it forays into more routes, the airline seems not deterred by the general notion that Nigerian airlines do not usually survive the competition on international routes due partly to aero-politics and harsh operating environment in Nigeria.

From starting domestic flights in 2014 with six aircraft to breaking into inter-continental and international routes with 26 aircraft, chairman of the airline, Barrister Allen Onyema, believes Nigerian airlines like Air Peace can break barriers and be more competitive when given necessary government assistance and enabling environment to operate.

“We believe that we can do more with articulate planning. The era of saying Nigerian airlines is a push over is gone forever, all we need is the enabling environment to operate. And also, the launch of this flight by Air Peace will help to boost economic progress and our bilateral relations,” Onyema said.

Onyema said Nigerians can now heave a sigh of relief as they now have a choice of direct flight to South Africa, noting it was the plan of the company from inception to connect Nigeria to the world through the cities, as that Thursday’s flight to Johannesburg was a fulfilment of the plan.

“I feel great for Nigerians, I feel very happy because Air Peace is trying to offer the Nigerian flying public direct flight to Johannesburg and back to Nigeria instead of going around the world or Africa. It is just a matter of less than six hours, but it is something that we had looked forward to.

“We promised Nigerians six years ago, that we were not just going to connect cities in Nigeria but connect this country to other nations of the world, and gradually we are getting there,” he said.

The airline will not rest on its oars but initiate sustainable plans in order to compete favourably on the route, he said.

“We don’t want to deceive ourselves by saying that we are the only one on the route, and for us to sustain the tempo of whatever we are doing we have to be pragmatic, we have to be strategic in our planning. Like I said, we are following our business plans of 2014 meticulously and we have achieved everything we said we would do in 2014,” he said.

According to Chief Operating Officer of Air Peace, Oluwatoyin Olajide, the airline plans to eliminate the harrowing experience passengers have been going through to connect Lagos from Johannesburg and vice versa, with the launch of direct flight services between the two cities.

This will come with excellent and great customer services as they (customers) are the reason for the existence of the airline, she said.

To this effect, the airline has carefully configured its B777 aircraft deployed on the route into three classes, she revealed, saying that it is also offering a promotional fare from 6,000 Rand for return ticket.

“For Air Peace, one thing that sets us apart is superior service that we provide for our customers. For us, our customers are king because they are the reason for our existence, we understand that, that much,  and we have to listen to them, they are very important to us, so we do not joke with the services that we provide to our customers.

“In addition to that, it is the promo fare that we are running now, it is an amazing fare. From Jo’burg to Lagos and back to Jo’burg, you are just paying about 6,000 Rand, that is unbelievable for a flight that is going to be less than six hours compared to the harrowing experience that people have been going through having to travel via Kigali, Lome just to get to Lagos where people spend several hours for a journey that is less than six hours. So, we have come here to actually take that away.

“I must add that our aircraft is a B777 aircraft, it is a very beautiful aircraft, very comfortable, we have three class configurations, and we have the First Class, Business Class and the Economy Class. We have the full flat bed in the First and Business classes, so you can relax all the way, the service is excellent,” she said.

Olajide, cutting the tape at the flight launch ceremony at Lagos airport recently

Commenting on the development, a former commandant of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, and the Chief Executive Officer of Centurion Aviation, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd.) lauded Air Peace for the feat.

He however cautioned the airline not to be carried away by this but consolidate on the operations in preparation for competition by ensuring that it either operates under the flag of any of the regional countries or it is designated as a flag carrier by the Nigerian government.

“It is a good effort if and only if the international alliance the South African Airline belongs to is put into consideration; the exploits of Ethiopian, Rwandan and Kenyan airlines on the regional, continental and international routes must be put into consideration.

“Air Peace must also note that the airlines on the routes are mostly national carriers and must be ready to compete with them as a private operator, except it gets the support of the Nigeria government. The airline must take lessons always from the Arik experience in 2012 in UK between its choice to operate from Heathrow rather than Gatwick allocated to it by the British government. Also, the recent experience in the UAE, instead of operating to Dubai it was allocated another airport. National or Flag carriers fall easily into BASA but not the private operators.

“Air Peace should ensure it is designated as a Flag Carrier by the Federal Government. Where this is not possible, it could operate under the flag of any of the regional countries as was the case in the 90s with Bellview flying the flag of Sierra Leone and later ADC flying that of Liberia,” he said.

For Sindy Foster, Principal Managing Partner, Avaero Capital Partners, “It is laudable to see an ambitious airline evolve from Nigeria,” adding that “due to low propensity to fly and increasing poverty levels, exacerbated by the pandemic, indigenous airlines cannot rely on just the domestic market. “Aviation requires scale to be successful; you develop scale by frequency, by increasing connectivity and route optimisation. Passengers would prefer more direct routes across Africa, so this direct flight from Lagos to Johannesburg meets that need perfectly.”

She however cautioned the airline to select the right type of aircraft for routes while bearing in mind the uncertainty surrounding air travel at this period of pandemic.

“However, with so much uncertainty due to lack of a coherent and integrated approach to quarantine and testing globally, it is a difficult time to embark on capital intensive route and fleet expansion. I fear the uncertainty, which people have translated to “passenger apathy” at this point in time, it will be too great to launch many new routes right now.

“Airlines need to look at the data and do proper analysis and projections so that they can select the right aircraft type for the route, rather than try to crowbar the wrong aircraft into the wrong route. That is one of the fastest ways to lose money in aviation.

“There seems to be a disconnect between businesses and consumers. Local airlines seem to think that they can just order aircraft; schedule flights and passengers will come because of road insecurity. This argument won’t wash for regional/intra-continental flights. People need a reason, the ability and the means to travel. Airlines and governments need to work on providing both reasons to travel, growing prosperity and creating an enabling environment across the continent. Trade agreements between countries, ease of doing business and ease of travelling within Africa need to be more than just a policy. It needs to be a reality,” she said.

On how government can help the airlines grow, Foster said policies needed to be turned into actions, adding that government needs to create the right framework for the sector to grow.

“By realising that a one size fits all approach will not work for aviation. They really need to stop driving identical and often replicated business models, and allow for more creativity and innovation in the market. We need different types of aviation: business, commercial, general aviation, and cargo to thrive. There should be more avenues for charter operations to test routes before full commercialisation takes place.

Allen Onyema, Chairman, Air Peace

“There should be no need for an airline to have to fly domestic routes first, before they tackle international routes. Government also needs to understand the unintended consequences of their actions and inactions, and recognise how these impact the bottom line.

“The will of the airlines are there, but they can’t grow with one hand tied behind their backs by unnecessary restrictions and overlapping charges that eat into an already thin margin industry. The exchange rate has a big impact on aviation as the biggest input costs are often dollar expenditure while revenue is in local currency,” she said.

According to her, if government fully understood the low profitability of airlines, ‘they would stop trying to exploit it into extinction.

“Sometimes, I feel the interest in aviation is not really about what aviation can do to grow the economy, but is more about what they can get access to because of aviation, much needed dollars! Nothing will change unless the commercial landscape changes. That’s why Avaero Capital Partners has placed policy development at the centre of our business,” she noted.

Also speaking to the travelport on the matter,  Engr, Sheri Kyari, a scribe of National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and ex-worker of Nigeria Airways, urged government to quickly come to the aid of Nigerian airlines, especially those designated on international routes.

According to Kyari, Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) issues should not be something that should adversely affect Nigerian airlines on international routes if government is alive to its duties.

“Government must come out fully to support the airlines; it should no longer make policies that will frustrate the airlines; government must do something to keep them afloat. For instance, there must be waivers for taxes on aircraft parts clearance and anytime there is BASA issue, government must be seen to always support its own and not the other way round. It should not be lackadaisical to such issues and leave the airline on their own.

“Air Peace should go into agreement with other carriers to be successful on international routes. It should only take on routes that it has the capacity and airplanes to operate to avoid some pitfalls,” he advised.

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