Nigeria’s oldest airline, Aero Contractors has had its fair share of crises that almost led to the extinction of the once flourishing airline. Smart moves by the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), creativity brought to bear by astute airline administrator, Capt. Ado Bayero Sanusi to head the airline culminated in the historic roll out of the successfully conducted B737-500 C-Check in Nigeria. WOLE SHADARE writes that this could be the beginning of the airline’s revival to prominence and to claim its rightful place in the country’s aviation sector.
Aero Contractors case is one that can best be described as rising from dead. Not many gave it a chance to survive the turbulence of Nigeria’s aviation industry.
The resilience of the airline and that of the management team has again rekindled hope that the indomitable spirit of Nigerians in all spheres of human endeavours propels them to a greater height.
The can-do spirit of the airline not to go the ways of many airlines is really a lesson in endurance, focus and hard work and that came to the fore today as Nigeria’s oldest airline formally rolled out what it considered the first successfully conducted B737-500 C-Check in Nigeria.
That was not actually the first time C-check would be carried out in Nigeria, but there is not denying the fact that Aero’s feat is worthy of commendation.
The liquidated Nigeria Airways had before now, carried out similar checks not only on Boeing aircraft, but also on Airbus airplanes.
Aero had been embroiled in crises that almost led to its collapse. The near collapse of Aero was self-inflicted as former owners of the once flourishing airline in collaboration with some management staff of the airline allegedly raped the airline and seriously compromised safety standards.
To summarise it, Aero was almost at ground zero! Aero Contractors Airline, hitherto a premium brand in Nigeria’s aviation sector is, today, a shadow of its old self in a corporate evolution that has lately assumed an undulating historical trajectory.
At inception in 1959 and for several decades after Aero Contractors carved a niche for itself and rose to stardom in Nigeria’s competitive aviation industry through high safety standards, reliability and exceptional customer-friendly services for all of which it was reputed. It thus did not take long before this airline shot itself to the leadership position in the industry.
Historically speaking, Aero Contractors was initially wholly owned by Schreiner Airways B.V. of the Netherlands. In 1973, however, it became a company with 40% Nigerian holding which rose to 60% in 1976; and in January 2004, Canadian Helicopter Corporation, CHC bought over Schreiner Airways and also acquired 40% holding in Aero Contractors while the majority 60% shareholding remained with Nigeria’s Ibru family.
In service offering, the airline, over the years, metamorphosed from rendering air chartered services to church missionaries throughout the country and to the Niger Pools to transport betting coupons to Lagos, to offering diversified services to the then embryonic oil and gas industry by ferrying seismic crew in the Delta area of the River Niger; and later ventured into schedule operations both on the domestic and international schedule passengers services in 2000, flying to 13 destinations with its Boeing 737-400, Boeing 737-500 series and De Havilland Dash 8-Q200, De Havilland Dash 8-Q300, De Havilland Dash 8-Q400 aircraft, respectively.
Things got so bad that the Asset Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON had to take Aero Contractors over on February 5, 2016.
Since the take-over, two leading aviation unions, the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) in a document AMCON, pointed accusing fingers at the proprietors, the Ibru family, as having contributed in no small measure to the deplorable condition of the airline and its declining fortunes.
Among other things, the unions alleged that Oceanic Capital, a consultant to the airline acquired seven planes in which only six were delivered and then were leased back to Aero Contractors Airline through Oceanic Leasing Company at $12million each. The unions claimed that rather than the $12million claimed by Oceanic Capital, the website of Arizona, the firm from which the aircraft were acquired put the price for the purchase at $4million each.
The appointment of an experienced aviator and former Managing Director of Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Capt. Ado Bayero Sanusi seems to be changing the narrative and reposition the carrier to a greater height.
In his address at a well-attended roll out of the B737-500 aircraft at the airline’s facility in Lagos, the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika who was represented by the Commissioner Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Akin Olateru, an aircraft engineer, said the occasion was the culmination of several variables.
His words, “Today’s occasion proves that with good policies, smart management, effective oversight and professional dedication by staff, hard work gets rewarded and companies dedicated to public services can be revived from the brink of collapse.”
“Just yesterday, Aero was at the verge of being written off as another failed in Nigeria. This is highly commendable in the life of this administration. Under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, no airline has gone under. B737 is one of the most successful aircraft in Nigeria. What Aero Contractors has done will stem capital flight as between $1.5 million and $2 million leave the shores of the country any time an aircraft is ferried abroad for maintenance”.
The Aero Contractors MD, Capt. Sanusi stated that the aviation regulatory body deserves commendation for certifying Aero as suitable for conducting Boeing aircraft C-Checks in Nigeria.
He stated that SAA Technique & AJW Group remain, “Our technical partners whom we hold in high esteem for their commitment in adding immense technical value to our maintenance department. Both companies went far beyond the terms of MoU we signed on this project and worked with our team like a family.”
He explained that conducting aircraft C-check in Nigeria is a huge milestone for the aviation sector which all stakeholders recognise, adding that for them in Aero, there were several challenging moments.
“Thankfully, our team of engineers and technicians persisted and surmounted the challenges to make today possible”.
Managing Director, AMCON, Ahmed Kuru stated that for them, aviation is not just critical sector but also a strategic and core component of any economy or country that wants to compete on the global scale.
To him, if Nigeria must compete, the only option is to have a sustainable, vibrant and dependable aviation sector.
“So, intervening in Aero and indeed all other airlines in the country was for us a national assignment, geared towards both our resolution objective and the need to help in rebuilding the Nigerian economy.”
“As a recovery agency of the Federal Government, it was not for us an option to stand aloof and watch while airlines such as Aero, with its rich history and others be grounded as a result of challenges in management and governance, plus accumulated debt obligations,” he added.