Nigeria has a fantastic airport landscape, a cutting edge start-up airline, and a diverse commercial airline landscape. Linking all of these together is a private, cargo and charter aviation industry that outmatches nearly all other regions in Africa. What is the private airline scene like in Nigeria? Which is the main scheduled cargo carrier? And what is the charter landscape?
Nigeria’s charter aviation industry
Nigeria has several niches of charter aviation operating (and profiting) in the country. These are divided up into private charters for business travel, recreational links, cargo, and government services. The majority are based out of the hub of Lagos, but some firms have carved out a market in airports like Kano and Abuja. These airlines can operate everything from domestic services across the country to international airline operations with their own ICAO code.
Before we dive in, we should mention that many of the current commercial airlines operate charter services (like MAX air) on an ad-hoc basis where needed. The following are airlines that do not operate scheduled routes for passengers. Naturally, there are plenty of airlines that haven’t made this list (Ch-aviation lists well over 47 airlines operating in the country), so we will highlight a few key carriers.
The first in this list is Nigeria’s only mainline scheduled cargo carrier. Established back in 1988, it has scheduled cargo services before the current Coronavirus crisis to Accra, Freetown, Monrovia, Entebbe, and Malabo.
Of note, this airline is the first in Africa to use the Boeing 737-800 BCF (converted freighter) in its fleet. These aircraft were recently acquired from defunct Jet Airways in India, and will allow the carrier to deliver cargo to remote airfields across the country and to nearby cities. The plane is the youngest freighter aircraft in the world of that type, and the airline has commissioned another one to be delivered in the coming years. These aircraft are set to replace the airlines’ three Boeing 737-400 fleet.
“What we intend to do in the next three to four years is to upgrade to the [B737-]800,” chief executive Val Tongo said to Ch-Aviation back in 2008, “The -800s will be used to replace all the -400s. The reality is that we have always been a Boeing operator. We started with B727-200(F)s and then went to the B737[-400]s. So the intention is to continue [with Boeing] because basically we understand them and we believe very much in their products,”
With these aircraft, the carrier plans to expand its reach beyond the local region and to service all of Central and West Africa.
“We’re looking to expand in West Africa and to compliment the big carriers by distributing for them. We want to really network the whole of West and Central Africa. To that end, one idea we have is to partner with other small carriers around the continent. So if we bring cargo to, for instance, Kinshasa N’Djili, we can then hand over a consignment to a local operator that will then transport it to its final destination,”
One of the bigger charter airlines in Nigeria is Aero Contractors. Originally a lucrative firm with six aircraft, four of which are Boeing 737s and two turboprops (Q200 and Q300), it has since fallen on hard times and its management has defaulted to the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON). As of right now, the airline is only operating half its fleet, with two Boeing 737s and a Q300 parked.
It is possible that these airframes are destined to be merged with Arik Air (see this article) and become the new national airline of Nigeria, Nigerian Eagle. However, it remains to be seen.
Dornier Aviation Nigeria
A private aviation firm, Dornier Aviation Nigeria operates aircraft with the same namesake as its firm name – five Dornier 328-100s. These aircraft are used exclusively for charter flights from Kaduna Airport. Several missions include VIP transport, agricultural flying, aerial photography, and emergency medical evacuation services. It has also been contracted to fly patrons of the Hajj in 2015 (although it was knocked back in 2016 as it was operating on a charter contract).
Pan African Airlines
One of the older airlines in Nigeria, Pan African Airlines, has found a place catering to the oil industry. With a mixed fleet of both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, this airline has been able to carve out a specific niche that has been overlooked by others. The firm has expanded operations across the country to several bases, including the main hub in Lagos (with its own passenger terminal) and Port Harcourt. Clients can fly between the network to reach various different gas and oil sites.
Other private airlines in Nigeria
There are many other airlines in Nigeria that we haven’t mentioned in this article, or others that operate relatively modern commercial class airframes (75 seaters plus) for charter flights or private business jets. The private aviation industry grew dramatically in the country since 2010 thanks to an oil boom and an increase in wealthy patrons. Because of the flaw of African aviation where most travel needs to go through remote hubs, private aviation filled the gap for business travelers trying to reach various sites across the country (and region).
“The domestic air companies only have regularly scheduled services to five airports – Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Sokoto – so we fill a huge gap in the market,” said a Nigerian private pilot to Financial Times.
Nigeria has just shy of 200 private business jets in the country, with the majority of them stacked at Lagos. Thanks to the wealth of the oil industry, the aircraft can operate out of a private terminal far more luxurious than that of the airport. These aircraft and flights can cost around $8,000 US per hour.
“This is the fastest-growing market in Africa and the biggest,” said Peter de Waal, chief executive of Zurich-based ExecuJet Nigeria (see below).
Apart from international firms that have moved into the market, there are several local private operators. They include:
- Aviation Resource Services – A single CRJ200ER and currently parked during the current crisis.
- ANAP Jets – Operating a single Legacy 600 for private charter.
- ExecuJet Nigeria – Nigerian arm of the Luxemburg airline Execujet that hires out private aircraft.
- SkyBird Air – Founded back in 2010, this airline operates three Do328-300 for wet-lease and charter use.
- United Nigeria – A new airline just entering the market with a single Boeing 737-500. It also planned to acquire two Embraer Ejets in April of this year, but the current crisis has shifted those plans.
- ValueJet – A startup aiming for the budget niche, this carrier has a bit further to go until it launches. Initially, it planned to launch with three leased Airbus A320s, but plans are currently on hold.
‘Bootleg’ aviation charters
Before we close this chapter on private aviation in Nigeria, we should mention a recent crackdown in 2019 by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) of private operators engaging in passenger charters without the relevant papers. Essentially those who are operating private flights as charter flights for commercial gain.
“By this, any operator caught engaging in such unauthorized services will have its Air Operator Certificate (AOC) suspended or revoked,” NCAA spokesman said via Ch-Aviation in a statement. “Consequently, the general public is hereby reminded that holders of Air Transport Licence and Airline Operating Permit with valid AOC are the only authorized operators to carry out charter operations.”
“It, therefore, follows that any members of the public transacting business with any unauthorized operators will be doing so at a high risk as such operations may not have valid insurance cover.”
So far, this sting has caught out the following private airlines:
- Izy Air – A small firm with a single Gulfstream, they have been suspended to run any commercial wet-lease by the Nigerian authorities (see below).
- JedAir – Operating a single CL-604, they have the same suspension as the above Izy Air.
- OmniBlu – The same aircraft and conditions as JedAir.
- West Link Airlines – A private airline with CL-601 and one CL-604
These airlines are undergoing an audit and should be operating again soon, with the correct airline certificates for their role. This is another sign that the Nigerian air market has changed from the wild west operations it once was, to an industry that is more like its European and American counterpart.
Nigeria has a bustling aviation economy that is the most diverse in Africa. While other countries may have singularly large airlines (like South Africa and Ethiopia), only Nigeria has the cosmopolitan aviation nature alike that of Europe or North America – with many airlines, firms, and more. We for one can’t wait to see what happens next.
If you are looking to move into the Nigerian market, or need support in the region, then consider Eways Aviation. As unmatched experts in local realities, we can be your partners on the ground and in the air. Get in touch today.