One of the major challenges faced by air travel in Nigeria is that in the last three years there has been depletion of number of operating aircraft as the number of air travellers is increasing.
One of the major reasons for this is that aircraft lessors are reluctant to lease aircraft to Nigerian operators due to many reasons, including the fact that Nigeria is designated high country risk.
With the difficulty to lease aircraft, airlines have only one choice: to purchase the equipment.
But aircraft acquisition is capital intensive and the airlines are operating in an environment of double-digit interest rate and short time loan repayment, where banks are not enthused about extending credit facility to airlines operators.
With this background, one can appreciate the feat achieved by Dana Air when its newly acquired aircraft arrived last week and as the airline disclosed, the Boeing 737-300 aircraft would be a harbinger for more equipment that would arrive. The airline said that two more would be delivered before the end of the year, which would increase the airline’s fleet to nine aircraft.
In an interview with the Chief Operating Officer of the indigenous carrier, Obi Mbanuzuo, the airline said the aircraft acquisition was a major achievement.
“Last year, Dana Air celebrated 10 years of operations and we have been talking about fleet renewal. We were always asked what we are doing about renewing our fleet. There has always been one impediment or another, starting from the economic downturn some years ago.
“So those things affected us. However, we are always slow and steady in Dana Air. The aircraft is fully owned and operated by Dana Air; the aircraft is not leased. So the pilots are our pilots and the cabin crew is our cabin crew. The journey has not been easy. It has been one of perseverance and great support from our senior management team such as the Chairman, the Managing Director and the financial backers both at home and abroad. They have been very supportive. This is just the first of many that will come.
“I can with confidence say that before the year runs out, you will see more Boeing 737s in Dana and fully operated by Dana Air. We are still operating the McDonald aircraft but over time, we will have more aircraft on our fleet. Our second McDonald, which went on heavy maintenance, will return to the country in few days,” Mbanuzuo said.
The Chief Operating Officer said with the addition of new aircraft Dana Air would add more routes to expand its destinations locally, noting that the new delivery, the Boeing 737 has the capacity of 143 seats and possibly eight business class seats or 12, depending on the final configuration.
On the benefits of the new acquisitions to Dana Air, Mbanuzuo said, “The journey to acquiring this aircraft has been long. There is a financial cost but I cannot quantify it to you but it was a burden on Dana Air, which is why when we were asked about route, we had to also say the airplane, would be deployed where it will make the required returns. We have to make sure the airplane becomes profitable for the airline.”
Speaking about the industry and the aircraft type needed for domestic operations in Nigeria, the COO said distance to destination; preferences by customers and other realities determine the choice of aircraft type by airlines.
“Every route is different. I can tell you for example that for the distance we fly in Nigeria, the turbo prop (propeller aircraft) is the best equipment available. If for example, in the morning, all airlines are going to Abuja and total numbers of 700 or 800 people are going there in the morning, they need a bigger aircraft.
“So, right now, the Boeing 737 size aircraft is perfect for that kind of passenger number. It may not be the most cost effective for that distance but in order that you don’t do two flights at the same time, it is the best in terms of the aircraft capacity. The biggest turbo prop will carry 70 passengers. Rather than we putting two airplanes in the air at the same time, this is the best airplane,” Mbanuzuo said.
He said the Boeing 737 aircraft is the most popular aircraft in Nigeria.
“So, we have enough Nigerians type rated on the aircraft and we are training more. We have about 45 to 50 MD80s licenced engineers in Dana Air and we just carried out full training for all of them. So, they are all rated.
“This currently brings our aircraft fleet to six and by the end of the year; we should have eight or nine. Two are currently on maintenance and very soon, one will return from maintenance,” he added.