Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim, Chairman, Air Nigeria in this interview with NKEM OSUAGWU during the recommencement of flight operation to London, talked about plans by the management to turn Air Nigeria into a global airline despite the challenging operational environment. Ibrahim said government has a duty to assist airlines in their operations by investing in a hangar project, which will help curb capital flight.
What are the future plans of Air Nigeria?
Our plan is to focus on international operations as an airline. No airline succeeds by flying only domestic routes. If an aircraft flies to Abuja 10 times a day, it loses its life cycle ten times. In other words, it is 10 times closer to a C-check. All the major international airlines like British Airways, Air France and KLM make profit by focusing on international operations. British Airways bought BMI for over £176 million pounds a year ago. It has about 10 aircraft. BMI focuses on domestic operations. But now British Airways is saying that if they cannot get a buyer any moment from now they are going to liquidate it. All these big airlines have come to realise that running domestic flights are not profitable.
We will take delivery of another aircraft in 20 days from now - an Airbus A330-200. We will then have two aircraft in our international operations. And this aircraft will be deployed to the Lagos-Dubai route.
Another international route we will deploy these aircraft to are Rome. Data available from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority shows that 58,000 travelled to Rome last year. Italian airline-Alitalia carried only 27,000 of these people. So we will be flying Lagos-Rome-Paris.
We have gotten government approval to fly to Rome, Paris, Johannesburg and Dubai. We will start flying to Dubai before the end of this quarter. We are negotiating with Boeing for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner which we will deploy to Lagos, China and Dubai. We have government’s approval to fly from Lagos to Paris and Lagos to Rome and South Africa. We need to deploy aircraft on these routes.
We will reduce our domestic operations to five major routes. We have been discussing with Boeing on the Dreamliner which will be delivered in 2014. Then we will look at the United States market. The orders will start arriving from the third quarter of 2014 and between now and then, we are using the A330-200 aircraft to prepare the routes and make our selves fortified and be able to face the challenges. The aircraft are going to operate international routes and Air Nigeria at present has approval for 17 foreign routes like China, Dubai, London, U.S.A and even South Africa among others. You should feel great now that a Nigerian carrier is taking the country forward.
What do the business class passengers stand to enjoy on board aircraft?
There are lots of things. Apart from the varieties of meals, every business class passengers will have access to Ipads. With that they have array of entertainment to choose from. For the business class passengers, our Lagos-London flight is the best place to relax after all the stress of business. It is quite an unending experience.
What is your strategy to build the airline and contain the competition?
Our campaign for the Lagos London route is huge. It is a continuous thing. We have good in-flight products, we offer excellent service. We have a massive plan for our campaign. The more people hear about us, they will spread the news. We have brought our air fares down. Already British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways have come down with their prices. All that Nigerian government has to do is to encourage entrepreneurs to succeed.
Do you have any plan to build a maintenance hangar?
We maintain our aircraft through Lufthansa Technick in Germany and we pay 2 million euros for the maintenance. Our argument is, why can’t the Nigerian government assist airlines? If the Nigerian government could go into providing a hangar facility it will help the economy.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Five years from now, As Jimoh Ibrahim, I would have retired. As Air Nigeria, we will be flying a minimum of 15 big jets (wide body aircraft) to all the continent in the world. There is no continent we won’t be flying to five years from now. This year, we have gone places. This is Europe, we are here. When you wake up in the morning, you will be in Lagos; you can fly to any part of the world on Air Nigeria.
Beyond that, I want to assure you that effective two years from now; we will be depositing Air Nigeria into your hands. What does that mean? Air Nigeria would have to go PLC. It would be an airline owned by Nigerians. I will sell my shares, and then you can buy some. Air Nigeria will be in the market. So we will meet at Annual General Meetings, and then we will discuss. So that is our plans. By then, Air Nigeria would be fully Nigerian.
Actually, this year we have been invited to come and list under the special registry of the stock exchange. So two years from now, Air Nigeria will be in the market, you will be a shareholder, I will be a shareholder. It will be our airline.