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Monday, 05 November 2012 00:00
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Arik soars higher at six, set to deliver Nigeria’s first super hangar

Considering the mortality rate, avalanche of criticisms and attacks on private investments in the aviation in Nigeria, it was not given any chance to survive even in the first twelve months at inception; but with dogged determination to give the nation an airline it would be proud of and do Africa proud, the board and management of Arik Air pursued the goals, six year after,  it is a good story to tell.

After the conspired liquidation of Nigeria Airways, the vacuum created in the airline industry was just too wide for all the then existing domestic airlines to fill.

So the realities of having an airline that would fill the gap with minimum or no government involvement came to bear; hence the coming of Arik and others.

But with the uncomfortable business environment in the industry, of all the airlines that came on board during the period only Arik Airs seems to be fully in full operations. Other have either  are either on suspended operation or completely out of the business.

What make(s) what has helped Arik to survive where others could not and what are the secret of the airline’s survival? Last Tuesday, the board and management of the airline rolled out drum to celebrate the sixth year of existence of the airline.

While enumerated the lofty achievements of the airline within the last six years as well as given as insight into the next level the airlines would soon attain, they did not mince word telling the  world that there are a lot of challenges which the airline industry is going through and therefore, called for prompt government intervention.

Managing Director of the Airline, Chris Ndulue in his speech at the occasion said the airline which began operations on October 30, 2006 with three new aircraft and four daily flights between Lagos and Abuja now has the largest fleet in Nigeria with 23 short medium and long aircraft.

With total 29,363 passengers carried which represents  less than 1 per cent share of the domestic market in 2006, Arik Air as carried over 10.2 million passengers in six years of operation making it to control over 65 per cent of the total domestic market share, doing about 120 flights daily. “We have made it possible to connect from many key cities in the country direct to Lagos and Abuja,” he recalled.

Ndulue added that the airline now serves 22 destinations across Nigeria, five in West Africa (Accra, Monrovia, Freetown, Banjul, Dakar), two in Central Africa (Angola, Douala), one South Africa (Johannesburg), one in Europe (London Heathrow) and one in America (New York JFK), servicing 42 routes all together across the world.

Other milestones achieved by the airline between October, 2011 and October, 2012 according to the managing director, include becoming full active membership of International Air Travel Association (IATA), Inaugurated services from Lagos, Nigeria to Cotonou (Benin Republic), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Bamako (Mali) in December 2011 and Douala (Cameroon) in August 2012, Increased frequency between Lagos and Dakar, Senegal (three  direct and three via Freetown-Banjul, Movement to new Business class lounge (Gabfol Lounge) at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos. Increase in baggage allowance on the Lagos-London Heathrow route to two pieces of 32kg (i.e. 64 kg total, introduction of Lagos-Abuja-Lagos and Lagos-Port Harcourt-Lagos shuttle services, signed MoU for two Boeing 747-800i and successful IOSA audit renewal.

On human capital development in the industry, Arik Air, according to Ndulue has invested $2 million on cadet pilots training while it has a plan to build an Aviation Academy in Benin City. The airline has created  over 2,500 direct jobs for Nigerians.

Some of the firsts recorded by the airline include:
Arik prides its self as the first commercial airline in Nigeria to link Abuja with the state capitals even as it is also the first commercial airline in Nigeria to operate brand new aircraft in over 20 years.

The airline is the first African airline to operate Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft, Airbus A340-500 aircraft, Bombardier Dash-Q400 aircraft and own a modern state-of-art Operations Control Centre (OCC).

First airline in Nigeria to get the new AOC under NCAA requirements of the new Civil Aviation Regulations, First Nigerian airline in almost two decades to receive Part 129 approval from the USA Department of Transport and Federal Aviation Administration  (FAA) to commence direct flight operations to the United States in Nigerian registered aircraft.

Having attained all these feat in the six years, Arik air has positioned itself to attain a greater level in the industry as it soars to the next steps.

Charity, they say, begins at home. The airline in its expansion programme, considers first, expanding its  African destinations to include: Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire), Conakry (Guinea), Kinshasa (Congo), Malabo (Equatorial Guinea),  Libreville (Gabon)
While its long long-haul destinations would include Lagos-Houston (USA), Abuja-Kano-Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), Accra-London, Freetown-London

It also has in pipeline to expand interlining and code share arrangements to develop services to points beyond Europe, Middle East and U.S.A.

Above all, to arrest huge capital flight that is synonymous with maintenance of aircraft overseas by operators in the country, Arik would in partnership with Lufthansa Techniks launch new maintenance hangar, Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility and a new Super Hangar for wide bodied aircraft.

On the challenges faced by the airline and others in the industry, Arik Air which agreed that no airline can do it all on its own alone, called on the government and other stakeholders to continue to support airlines and the aviation industry in general.

Ndulue who said Arik has done a lot on its own to improve the security on its part but noted that security is not a destination but a journey which he promised the airline would continue to improve upon.

Speaking further on  the position of the airline,  chairman of the airline, Sir, Johnson Akinola Arumemi-Ikhide who particularly thanked the Federal government for granting zero duties on aircraft and aircraft parts duties, said more needed to be done.

“Let us have a change of mind, there is the need to have more information on aircraft financing. In the process of trying to give bad name to Arik, they expose their ignorance of the subject matter,”

On the funding for Arik and the directive from CBN that the airline should not be granted further funding,  Arumemi said I pray that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) would have a rethink on the directive but if they don’t we would get fund from outside.

He explained further “what we got from Nigerian banks is less than 20 per cent. Major investors in Arik are outside this country. And there is no day, I say with all honesty and you can check from all the banks, for six years, we have never defaulted payment. If not they would have seized the aircraft; instead they have approved for us $2 billion.

Let us say this, a house should not divide its self. Let us join hand to develop the aviation industry. Many occasions, Lufthansa has to rush in spare parts and we got stucked at the customs.

“But with all these we are progressing. It is either you join with us or keep on stoning us, but we shall keep on moving forward because we are what Yorubas called Olanrewaju. We should support what we have.  He said that most of the debt the airline is said to owed are nothing but guarantees from Nigerian banks.

He said the fund came from ECA. He disclosed that Arik Air only collected N10 billion from the intervention fund. He added that the airline pays at least N2.8 billion on interest and other charges  monthly. 

On the MRO and the Super hangar facilities which the airline is planning to establish in Lagos in partnership with Lufthansa Techniks,  Arumemi said the facility is for the entire world and not only for Arik or Nigerian airlines alone. The facility which he claimed would be a plus for Nigeria would get many Nigerians trained on the maintenance of New Generations (NG) aircraft.

He added that Arik itself would be a customer to the facilities which he noted is going to benefit the entire country.

On the future ownership of the airline, he disclosed that the airline has engaged the services of a reliable international audit company to value the airline and as soon as the audit its completed,  the airline would be taken to the Stock Exchange for the public to own shares in the company.