Nigeriaâ€™s domestic carrier, Dana Air has clocked nine years since it started operation.
The airline could be described as resilient because Dana Air and Afrijet Airlines started flight operations in the same year, 2008. Today, Afrijet has gone under. During that time Chanchangi Airlines was still a dominant operator in the domestic market. Aero Contractors held a record as the most flown airline then, holding strongly with about 40 percent of the domestic market. Arik Air started flight service two years earlier and one other airline, Discovery Air, which started operation on June 9, 2014, disappeared from the skyline about six months later.
Today, Aero is frail, grappling with oxygen, but with a strong management, it has entered a survival window as it hopes for the future. Chanchangi can only be remembered with its relic aircraft still occupying a bold space at the airside of the Kaduna Airport. Arik Air is going through metamorphosis currently, and this would redefine its existence.
Dana Air broke a jinx. It is the first airline besides Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) that was involved in a major accident and it is still operating five years after. Others which recorded similar accidents have all gone under; some immediately after the accident, like Sosoliso and others few years later, like Bellview Airline and ADC.
THISDAY spoke with industry experts and officials of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) who explained why Dana Air has succeeded so far.
For Dana Air to resume operation after the accident, the airline went through critical audit with NCAA in collaboration with its international partner, Flight Safety Group. The airline was literally dissected and majority of its technical team removed and replaced. A source in NCAA said that it was during the audit of Dana Air that the regulatory body made it as a rule that it must examine and approve the head of operations of every airline, known as accountable manager before the airline would be allowed to operate.
Spokesman of NCAA, Sam Adurogboye told THISDAY: â€œThe regulation requires that we approve of the accountable manager. The airlines know the rule. If the person does not meet our requirement we take action. We can close the operations of an airline because of that.â€
NCAA also during the audit thoroughly examined the operational aircraft of the airline, insisted that one should be put out of use and some engines of the others changed. The airline was made to undergo such a rigorous process before it was allowed to fly again.
But Dana Air contradicted the expectations of many industry observers who predicted that the airline would be deserted by passengers, which would over time force it to suspend operation. Few months into operation, it started recording high load factor. Recently THISDAY cornered an entertainer and on-air personality who frequently flies the domestic carrier and he said that he believed that after that accident the airline would be more careful and besides, he could not resist the good service of the airline crew.
Many travellers believe that Dana Air has the best in-flight service and on-time departure. This was confirmed by the Director of Consumer Protection, NCAA, Mr. Adamu Abdullahi who said that the airline has consistently maintained that record.
The Accountable Manager of Dana Air, Obi Mbanuzua said currently Dana Air average load factor is about 89 to 90 percent, which is considered the highest in the domestic market.
Looking at the future, Mbanuzua said in few years the airline would have a lot more routes to operate to and would also have acquired more aircraft.
â€œA lot of our plans also depend on financing by different financial institutions. When the banking industry had certain tremors, it also affected some of those plans we had. This is why we are careful with certain things we say. We know that not everything is within our power. There are discussions and plans to acquire new aircraft but those discussions are wide and varied. We are talking to aircraft lessors, manufactures and financiers because everything has to come together to bring those airplanes. We want to expand sustainably.
â€œI was not in Nigeria last week, three engineers are not here. We have aircraft on heavy checks abroad. So, part of the work we are doing is trying to bring those aircraft in for the busy Christmas period. One thing we look at as well is that we always operate within our capability. We do not bite more than we can chew. This business requires steady operational planning that requires you not to take risks, or do things that are not well thought out,â€ he said.
The Accountable Manager stated that as the airline operates about 90 percent load factor that it would aim to up the load factor to 100 per cent.
â€œSo, even without adding one more flight, we have 10 per cent of our seat that we can realistically fill over the busy period. I heard Owerri airport now has runway light. It is a good thing. As we all know that by 6:00 pm or 7:00 pm, all our aircraft stop operating. If more airports get airfield lights, Instruments Landing Systems, (ILS), we can deploy more capacity,â€ he added.
Mbanuzua noted that Nigerian travellers have accepted Dana Air and so far the airline has sustained their loyalty and expressed strong hope that the indigenous carrier would be there for the long haul, â€œfor another nine, plus nine, plus nine years.â€