In a previous article, we touched on the cosmopolitan airport landscape of Nigeria. But these many colourful airports have equally as many colourful airlines flying between them in Africa’s most vibrant aviation market. What is the Nigerian commercial airline space like? Let’s explore.
How many passenger airlines are there?
According to recent statistics at Ch-Aviation, there are eight Nigerian airlines registered with IATA operating scheduled air services across the country and internationally. This is a very healthy number and indicates a robust industry that continues to innovate inorder to meet local demand. Coupled with the many airports in the country (you can read our report about airports here), Nigeria may very well have the most exciting aviation landscape in Africa – if not the world.
However, not all of the country’s airlines are equal, and a deep dive is required of each before an accurate competitive landscape can be made. Let’s begin alphabetically:
Our list begins with Air Peace, one of the larger international carriers based in Nigeria. The airline flies to 20 destinations worldwide, including Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Sharjah in the UAE. Many of these routes are currently suspended due to the Coronavirus pandemic; however, the carrier hopes to reinstate them soon, as well as act on plans made back in January to operate to India and Israel from its hub of Lagos.
The carrier has an impressive fleet of 24 aircraft, including twelve Boeing 737s for domestic service, three Boeing 777-300s, and nine Embraer 145s it uses for regional travel (part of its subsidiary Air Peace Hopper).
Alas, recent events have not been kind for the airline, with the carrier laying off around 60% of its workforce and requesting financial help from the government. It had to look at rehiring part of its fired 70 pilots when it drew the ire of the unions, and now is in a balancing act of profitability and retaining jobs.
“Palliatives, bailouts, rollouts, intervention funds, or whatever we call them, are necessary. All over the world, governments are giving bailout funds to their airlines. Even the strongest of airlines have asked for them. What bothers us more at Air Peace is the retention of the workforce,” Air Peace chief executive Allen Onyema told the newspaper Nigerian Daily Punch, via Ch-Aviation, on June 29.
With two hub airports in Lagos and Abuja and a fleet of fourteen aircraft, Arik Air found itself the de facto national carrier of Nigeria. Founded after the fall of Nigerian Airways in 2006, it is the spiritual successor to the nation’s airline dreams (inheriting its ground facilities in Lagos, although Air Nigeria would be the official next state carrier).
However, just like the national carrier, Arik Air ran into some trouble over the last decade. At its peak, it flew to destinations like New York, Dubai, and London. The airline also had on order two Boeing 747-8Is, before changing the order to smaller 787-9s and then canceling them outright as it encountered financial problems. Then at the start of 2017, it was taken over by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) to be turned around. They cut all the international routes and scaled back the fleet to something manageable.
It operates domestically and a few nearby international destinations, although its dreams of flying around the world have hit a roadblock with the retirement of its widebody fleet:
- Five Boeing 737s
- Five regional CRJs
- Four regional Dash 8-400s
As for the future of this carrier, there is a rumor that the AMCON Is planning to combine its fleet with other airlines under its management (four others) and form a new, government-controlled, airline.
“[AMCON] approached the aviation authorities in the country seeking a license for an independent entity where all of its aviation assets would be transferred and efficiently managed in a synergistic manner,” AMCOM Head of Corporate Communications, Jude Nwauzor, said in a statement to local media “The proposed new entity, therefore, has nothing to do with the rebranding any of the airlines within its portfolio as being speculated in several online publications.”
However, aviation enthusiasts have already spotted one of the Boeing 737s with new ‘Nigerian Eagle’ livery while undergoing maintenance in Addis Ababa.
The only airline on this list to not have an IATA registration (only ICAO), Azman focuses exclusively on domestic travel around Nigeria. Based in its hub airport of Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, it offers an alternative network for citizens to use to get around the country. This was not always the case however, the carrier did operate a single Airbus A330-200 internationally to the Middle East and to Asia but suspended the lease in 2017.
Today the airline has six aircraft, two Boeing 737-300s, three 737-500s, and an oddly out of place Airbus A340-600 that it acquired for British Virgin Atlantic. Why this A340 is used for domestic routes is unknown, but if not used for charters, it could be perhaps the biggest domestic aircraft in operation in the world.
A smaller domestic carrier operating in Nigeria, Dana Air flies to the major airports with an older fleet of aircraft consisting of two McDonnell Douglas MD-82, two McDonnell Douglas MD-83, and two Boeing 737s. Using cheaper aircraft has allowed it to carve out a niche market in the country, and be worthwhile competition to the other airlines. This plan has paid off, with the carrier earning a profit every year since 2015.
In the future, the airline plans to retire its MD fleet and replace it with Boeing 737-800s as they enter the secondhand market.
“We’re probably still going to fly the MDs until they get to their heaviest checks – D checks,” said Chief Operating Officer Obi Mbanuzuo to African Aerospace. “The earliest will be due in a couple of years. Then we’ll start phasing them out, and the idea is to replace them. By then, the market should have settled down enough for us to be able to get our hands on some reasonable NGs.”
The airline also wants to experiment further with international routes (it did operate a service to Ghana for three months but pulled it after suffering from fuel scarcity and wrong aircraft issues) once it has doubled its local domestic network.
Green Africa Airways
Green Africa Airways may not deserve to be on this list, as technically it is still a start-up and has yet to enter the market. However, the carrier actually has a memorandum of understanding for 50 Airbus A220-300s, the largest single ‘order’ for the type in Africa, and the largest Airbus order in Africa. COVID has delayed launch plans of the airline until 2021, but they still remain optimistic that everything on track for this low-cost carrier.
“Green Africa, with the support of its high-quality equity backers, a world-class team on the ground, and landmark partnership with Airbus, has a unique opportunity to redefine the aviation landscape in the region. This strategic partnership provides Green Africa with further access to short to medium-term liquidity and an institutional platform for scaling. It also positions FCMB as a preferred long-term anchor player in the future of an industry that will be key to realising the economic potentials of Nigeria and the broader African continent.” – Nigeria’s First City Monument Bank (FCMB) Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Adam Nuru, via Ch-Aviation.
Covered extensively (and rightly so) in its own article, Ibom Air is the first airline in the world to be sponsored by a regional state rather than a country or private enterprise. This meeting point halfway affords the airline a unique position to quickly establish itself as a preferred airline and open up opportunities closed to national carriers.
MaxAir is effectively two airlines merged into one. In the first half, a thriving domestic carrier with four Boeing 737s operates to each major city in Nigeria – like many on this list. The second half of this airline is far more interesting, Operating two Boeing 747-400s exclusively for Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia (and its capital Jeddah). Based in Kano, it uses a strong local culture as its customer base and is truly a unique niche airline in the world.
Rounding out this list is Overland Airways, a regional airline based out of Ikeja and another hub of Abuja. It has a fleet of nine aircraft, all turboprops, that it uses to fill in the regional gaps missed by the above carriers. It may face some competition in coming years from Air Peace Hopper and Dana Air as both move into the local game (with higher profit margins).
A dynamic aviation market place that continues to surprise
Between these airlines and the airports of the country, Nigeria is truly a dynamic aviation market place that continues to surprise. Its innovative market players, quasi-state run airlines, and dreams of a new national carrier keep it young compared to mature aviation markets in Europe and North America, spurring investment and encouraging those on the ground to take aspirational leaps. If you want to be involved in this market, or need advice on other markets in Africa, then speak to Eways Aviation today.