By Lawani Mikairu
As encomium continues to pour in since the fifth anniversary , last week, of Air Peace airline entry into the Nigeria aviation sector, stakeholders have been telling each other that it is time for the federal government to appreciate the fact that if the right operative environment is created, domestic airlines can make the country proud considering the feats Air Peace has achieved within a short span of five years.
Since there is a saying that if you really want to assess a man and his achievements go to his “ harshest critic “ to get such assessment,Vanguard in the midst of the fifth anniversary celebration sought out Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), former commandant of Muritala Muhammed Airport, Lagos and a known vocal commentator in the aviation sector for his views on the operation of Air Peace airline these past five years.
Group Captain Ojikutu said: “The airline is doing relatively better on the domestic routes than others. It should target 10million passengers from at least 15 of the domestic airports. Rather than go into competition with the foreign airlines on the international routes, do co-sharing with them and do more business on the regional and continental routes than on the intercontinental routes”.
When asked if the airline should shelve its intention to go to US, India. South Africa for now and only continue to do Dubai, Sharjar ? He replied, “South Africa and United States, yes, any other, no. These with others under Africa Continental Free Trade Area, ACFTA, not to Europe or any other in the middle and far East”.
The above assessment and views of the former Airport Commandant shows the phenomenal growth of Air Peace airline. Within a short span of five years, the airline currently has more than Sixty percent share of Nigeria domestic aviation market and the fleet size larger than almost all the fleet of the other domestic airlines, currently operating, put together. That explains why Group Captain John Ojikutu said “It should target 10million passengers from at least 15 of the domestic airports”.
On the fleet size of Air Peace, the airline Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Barrister Allen Onyema , in a recent interview with Vanguard said “We have 26 planes. They will be 46 when all our new orders arrive. Our brand new planes, 20 of them, will start coming in seven months. It is the Embraer 195 E-2 Series, the latest of invention of Embraer. It is as big as Boeing 727 and carries 146 passengers. It is for domestic and regional operations and can take you to South of Europe and South Africa non-stop”.
Recall the airline pulled a surprise on aviation stakeholders and passenger in Nigeria and West Africa when it placed a firm order for 10 brand new Embraer 195-E2 aircraft. The order comprises purchase rights for a further 20 E195-E2 jets. The deal makes Air Peace the first to order the brand of jets in the whole of Africa, thereby becoming the official launch customer of the brand of aircraft in Africa.
The carrier also set a regional record in September 2018 when it ordered 10 brand new MAX 737 aircraft from Boeing. Shortly before the firm order for 10 brand new aircraft from Boeing, 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.
Air Peace sets up a subsidiary
In its drive to connect most cities in Nigeria, the airline recently set up a subsidiary called Air Peace Hopper and took delivery six 50-seater new generation Embraer 145 jets to serve the subsidiary and service the inter cities routes the airline is opening.
The development marks the first time a Nigerian airline would establish a subsidiary to manage an arm of its flight operations, following the tradition of some of the big carriers in the world. Speaking while taking delivery of the first of the six 50-seater new generation Embraer 145 jets, Barrister Allen Onyema said : “The arrival of our latest new generation aircraft marked 5N-BUY has once again underscored our determination to bring Nigeria together through air connectivity and fix the air travel difficulties of many unserved and underserved cities in the country”.
“We are even more pleased that the arrival of the aircraft marks the beginning of our subsidiary, Air Peace Hopper. Another of the six Embraer 145 jets we recently acquired will arrive in Nigeria in less than a week’s time. We will organise our plan to link many cities in the North and South of Nigeria under the subsidiary. Under Air Peace Hopper”.
“We hope to connect routes such as Enugu-Kano-Enugu, Benin-Port-Harcourt-Benin, Port-Harcourt-Kano-Port-Harcourt, Lagos-Warri-Port-Harcourt-Warri-Lagos, Lagos-Warri-Abuja-Warri, Lagos-Kaduna-Lagos, Lagos-Sokoto-Lagos, Abuja-Sokoto-Abuja, Abuja-Bauchi-Abuja, Lagos- Markurdi-Lagos, Lagos-Jos-Lagos, among others. This will not only open up and energise the economies of the different cities and states, but also create massive job opportunities for the people”.
“We remain focused in our determination to transform air travel in Nigeria, Africa and beyond. In three years, we have increased our fleet to a size of 24 aircraft. We are currently pursuing a massive route expansion project. We are launching our Lagos-Kano-Lagos and Kano-Abuja-Kano services on February 12. This will be followed three days after with the inauguration of our Lagos-Yola and Abuja-Yola operations on February 15”.
“Four days after, we will commence our flight operations to Freetown, Banjul and Dakar on February 19. Other cities on the West Coast of Africa will join our route network shortly. We are also finalising preparations for our flight operations to international destinations, including Dubai, Sharjah, Guangzhou-China, London, Houston, Mumbai and Johannesburg. We have our plans well laid out and are primed to project the name of Nigeria around the world”.
“We deeply appreciate the support of our esteemed guests whose support and loyalty have made us the preferred and biggest airline in Nigeria and West Africa. We will continue to strive to deliver the best flight service to them and prioritise their safety and comfort as we expand our operations,” Onyema said then. And true to his words, he has actualized most of these plans and vision. Air Peace has successfully linked more Nigeria cities after taken delivery of the Six Embraer 145 jets .
The airline also recently commenced its Sharjar, Dubai route operation by introducing affordable fares on the route which set jitters down the spine of the big middle east carriers who have dominated and monopolized the route for a long time. It has recorded steady progress on the route and it is set to start other international routes. This was revealed by the airline.
When asked about his plan to commence flight operation to the United States of America, Onyema said : “The Federal Government has given us permit for Houston and Atlanta. We are going to do all these routes. We have the planes. We brought in three special planes, another three will come in before December. We are prepared to do all the routes given to us by the government. We are going to create jobs”.
Air Peace airline recently took the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility, CRS, to unprecedented height when it evacuated 503 Nigerians from South Africa during the xenophobic attacks free without any cost to the federal government. When asked what was the motivation behind the gesture, Onyema said : “My motivation is to save mankind, help the indigent. A lot of people were stranded in South Africa for more than five years; they did not have anybody to help them come back”.
“ Remember, I used to take ex-militants to South Africa to train and transform them. During that period (2005-2010), I noticed that so many Nigerians in South Africa were begging for food, some were stranded, they did not know how to come back. So many of them also had good businesses, some were self-employed and doing things that were helping the South African economy.I didn’t envisage the outpouring of love and commendation people have shown us. I did not know it would be like this”.
“ What gladdened my heart and made me to shed tears inside the aircraft when I went to receive them was because of what they were saying inside there. I saw Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Ijaw, etc clinging together, holding hands and shouting ‘Nigeria, Nigeria, Nigeria.’ They were proud, and I felt grateful to God for using me to bond my nation. This is what I have worked for all my life, a peaceful Nigeria. So I started crying when they started singing the national anthem. Some of them never liked the national anthem before then, some of them would not have sang the national anthem”.
“They felt that sense of belonging; they felt proud because so many other countries that were also affected had nobody to come rescue them. Nigerians were walking tall. Even the South Africans were marveled when Nigerians were leaving, and they were looking at us as the giants of Africa, you touch them their people will come for them.So, we have been able to tell the world that we are one in this country that we may have our differences within but no country should ever toil with the resolve of Nigerians to be together,” he added.