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  • Chidozie Uzoezie

Is Air Peace The ‘National Carrier’ Nigerians Wish They Had?



When Air Peace's inaugural flight took off from the Murtala Muhammed Airport Lagos on 24 October, 2014, it came as a huge relief to its Chairman and CEO, Allen Onyema. As expected, Onyema was in high spirits, not only because his dream of many years had finally taken flight, but also because the first of many hurdles had been crossed. Air Peace was officially born. However, for most aviation stakeholders and industry watchers, the feeling was different. There were feelings of scepticism, doubts, and indifference. Coming on the heels of several other failed airlines and operating in the same notoriously harsh business environment that 'killed' them, all of those negative feelings were understandable and even anticipated. But even at launch, Air Peace was already different from the pack. It wasn't like any airline before it, neither was it like any it met on ground. Although not immediately perceptible, there were indications that Air Peace was different by default. Structured to Last


Six years after launching operations, Air Peace has grown in leaps and bounds, showing resilience and tenacity even in the face of mounting challenges and stifling competitions. With unrelenting passion and outstanding professionalism, the airline has changed the aviation landscapes in Nigeria and in West Africa within such a short time. With a vast route network and outstanding safety standards, Air Peace came in from the cold and soon became the preferred airline for Nigerian domestic passengers as well as those travelling on the west coast. Driven by a very ambitious expansion plan, Air Peace has rapidly grown to become the largest airline in West Africa. But in truth, the airline's success hasn't come as a surprise. The signs were always there, even at the very beginning. In a move that signalled a departure from the norm, Air Peace launched operations with a fleet of seven aircraft, breaking a record and setting another. That was the earliest visible sign that Air Peace wasn't just another airline. Another pointer was its early technical partnership with some of the world’s most renowned aviation maintenance companies including BCT Aviation of United kingdom, LLC of United States, Flyth Solutions Inc of Canada, Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd, Magnetic MRO of Estonia, and Lufthansa Technik. Indeed, Air Peace came fully prepared for the business ahead. In fact, Air Peace was structured to last. Federal Character Principle


Although a privately owned airline, it would seem that Air Peace has boldly stepped up to fill the vacuum created by the defunct Nigeria Airways, not in terms of political ramification, but in terms of national development. Air Peace has provided employments and succour to teeming aviation professionals in Nigeria, many of whom would have been without jobs and means of livelihoods. With the establishment of Air Peace, Allen Onyema deliberately set out to impact lives. "It is my belief that my happiness is incomplete without the happiness of others. Except my brothers and sisters are invited to my table of prosperity, my inner peace is a ruse," Onyema said at the launch of the airline in 2014. Perhaps, the most significant semblance between Air Peace and a national carrier is its federal character principle. In a bid to promote inter-ethnic harmony, inter-religious tolerance and national unity, Air Peace has and continues to employ Nigerians based on merits rather than on geography and affiliations. The body language at Air Peace neither smacks of nepotism nor tribalism. In a way that reflects diversity and inclusion, Air Peace employs Nigerians from all the geopolitical zones. Potential employees don't have to be Igbo or come from a certain part of the country to be hired. Perhaps, it's right to presume that, in establishing Air Peace, Onyema was guided by the first verse of Nigeria’s Old National Anthem which says "though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”. Beyond rendering aviation services, Air Peace has gone beyond ethnic boundaries to empower Nigerians and cater to humanity.

A Few Milestones


This opinion piece is not an attempt to recount Air Peace’s many accomplishments; however, it’s fitting to mention a few high points. When Ifechukwu, its first Boeing 777 touched down at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport Lagos in February 2018, Air Peace set a new record as it became the first and the only Nigerian airline to purchase and register the aircraft type. And in a move that buttressed its penchant for excellence, Air Peace ordered 10 brand new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in 2018, making history as the first airline in West Africa to add the equipment to its fleet. In 2019, the airline also ordered a total of 13 brand new Embraer 195-E2 aircraft with purchase rights for 17 more, making it the first airline to order and operate the aircraft type in Africa.


In a history-making event, Air Peace had on 24 October, 2014, commenced operations with 14 flights on the first day between Lagos and four destinations including Abuja, Port Harcourt, Owerri, Enugu, carrying over 300 revenue passengers. It had never happened before in the history of aviation in Nigeria, and it has not happened again. It is a record that will stand the test of time. There are more success stories and milestones, but they’ll be told another day.

There Are Challenges Too


Over the years, Air Peace and other Nigerian airlines have had to struggle with a myriad of perennial traditional challenges including unhealthy business environment, multiple taxations, unfavourable government policies, defective regulatory frameworks, and dilapidated airport infrastructure. They have also had to deal with the problems of weak currencies, higher aircraft acquisition and lease costs, difficulty in accessing credit facilities, higher training costs, and the inevitable aero politics which often does not favour African airlines. Being the Nigerian airline with the highest volume of foreign trade, Air Peace has had to grapple with these challenges a lot more than others. And then came the COVID-19 pandemic.


The COVID-19 pandemic has boxed global airlines into a difficult corner, and for Air Peace, it seems to have turned people's attention away from the original picture. In particular, the unfortunate labour face-off with flight crew didn’t go down well with both industry watchers and the airline’s fans. But we shouldn’t forget. From the inception, Air Peace set out to be a formidable national force, an airline every Nigerian would identify with and be proud of. The COVID-19 pandemic and its challenges have put that resolve to the test. The pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works, especially with respect to the airline’s local content policy and its network expansion plan. In truth, Air Peace is experiencing quite a few operational challenges at the moment resulting to a not-so-impressive customer satisfaction index. However, there are indications that it will emerge stronger and more resolute. Making Nigerians Proud


It's an inescapable fact that Air Peace has been unofficially flying the flag of Nigeria in a way that has made Nigerians proud. Perhaps, Air Peace's status as a national symbol was most visibly demonstrated on 11 September, 2019 when its Boeing 777-300 touched down at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, carrying 187 Nigerians who were stranded in South Africa over xenophobic attacks. The sound of Nigeria's national anthem, which rented the aircraft's cabin as it landed, was an indication that Air Peace had not only safely evacuated them for free, but had also made them very proud. One week later, another batch of 315 Nigerians was evacuated in an exercise that cost the airline over N280 million.


More moments of pride were presented by the COVID-19 pandemic as Air Peace rose up to the occasion as a national symbol. On 4 April, the airline's Boeing 777 landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja from Istanbul, Turkey, delivering the first batch of COVID-19 medical supplies for the Federal government of Nigeria. And in a history-making flight, Air Peace's Boeing 777-200ER landed in Beijing, China on 7 April, 2020 to airlift medical supplies, making it the first Nigerian airline to land in China.


Air Peace also operated repatriation flights for foreign nationals stranded in Nigeria including to Israel, China, India, and Malaysia. It also brought home, Nigerians stranded in other countries including Turkey, Kenya, Uganda, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the United Kingdom. In the absence of Air Peace, these national pride flights would most likely have been operated by an East African airline or one from the Middle East. These repatriation flights reflect the absolute confidence the international community has on Air Peace and its safety standards. Beyond making Nigerians proud, the successful operation of COVID-19 evacuation and relief flights is a strong indication that Air Peace has the capacity to operate regular long haul flights. In addition to Sharjah in Dubai, Nigerians are looking forward to flying their own airline to more international destinations including London, Houston, Guangzhou, Mumbai and Johannesburg which is launching soon.

Conclusion


At the 2018 Farnborough Air Show, Nigeria unveiled its proposed new national carrier. More than two years later, Nigeria Air is yet to take off, and there are no indications that it will, anytime soon. Although a recent statement from the Aviation Minister reassured Nigerians of the national carrier project, it’s not clear what the strategy is. But while Nigerians wait for their new national carrier, the Federal government of Nigeria should throw its weight behind Air Peace to help it actualize its long haul ambitions, especially with respect to diplomatic bottlenecks and international aero politics. In more ways than one, Air Peace has made Nigerians proud; it has given them a sense of belonging and a bragging right. And from all indications, Air Peace is the national carrier Nigerians wish they had.


Chidozie Uzoezie is an Aviation Analyst and a Content Creator. He’s the CEO of The Afritraveller Blog and the founder of the African Aviation Group. He can be reached on +234 (0) 806 372 4208 or via email on theafritraveller@gmail.com

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