What is the current state of Aero Contractors?
We have stabilized the business at this moment, and we are on our way toward recovery. Our revenue post-liquidation has risen almost 200%, and we have also seen a steady increase in passenger numbers, reaching over 600,000 in 2019. We also have stabilized our aircraft numbers; we are steady on the fixed wing, with four aircrafts in operation, and in the rotary wing, with four aircraft operating at the same time. With rotary wing, we are in the process of establishing ourselves back where we belong: as the first name in oil and gas logistics support. We will shortly reposition ourselves and reinvest as the number-one in logistics support to oil and gas companies.
What strategies have you implemented for success, especially in the rotary wing division?
The business model we are currently looking at is a sustainable model that does not depend on oil prices. We have a stable logistics company that maintains particular fleet and is efficient, but it is not dependent on barrel prices being USD50 or USD40. It is a business model where we look at our client's specific requirements. Whatever happens, we are going to give them the support they need. If there is an increase, we are, of course, flexible enough to increase our capacity but we will do so in a controlled manner. The moment we see the oil prices rising exponentially, we will not start buying equipment. Instead, we will advise rig operators if they need extra flights, which we can carry out without investing too much in the equipment due to our efficiency. We want to have a lean business.
How do multinational airlines coming to Nigeria impact the aerospace sector and the positioning of local airlines operating in the market?
The foreign legacy carriers coming into the country affects the growth of domestic carriers. If you give an international or legacy carrier multiple entry points into your country, you diminish the growth of the domestic carrier. Of course, you are also giving passengers the choice of flying out of more airports but at the detriment of your own aviation sector growth. If you decide to give limited access to entry points, you grow your own aviation sector. We must sacrifice little things, such as the comfort of flying domestic to reach international destinations, and have international carriers sign agreements to act as feeders with domestic carriers. Any country must protect growing industries to ensure they mature first before they have to fend for themselves in hostile markets.
What is your viewpoint on how the government is addressing the issues currently in the sector?
The current government is addressing the issue of infrastructure extremely well and have done a great job in upgrading most of the airports. We have even seen critical changes like runway resurfacing, navigational aids, and the upgrading of terminal buildings. However, the truth of the matter is that we are not yet where we are supposed to be, but we are going toward the right direction. Nigeria is a country of 200 million people. If we can target 10% of the whole population, that is 20 million. If we have 20 million people flying, then we need a formidable carrier in the country to cater to that hungry market. The government has done a fair amount to try and establish a national carrier, which is commendable as any country loves to have its own national carrier. The challenge in this country is most airlines do not survive a long time and usually get into problems after five to 10 years. We must address those issues and find out what is causing this abnormality to happen. We must stimulate the growth of the aviation industry and not allow it to organically grow by itself. Nigeria is placed strategically to be a hub, and Lagos Airport can support 15 to 20 million visitors annually. If we are able to stimulate that growth, all other sectors will fall into place. Aviation plays a major role in the economic development of any country.
What is your opinion of budget airlines' role in Nigeria?
We cannot bring mass transport to aviation as is being done for railways, ferries, and busses. We have not had one successful budget carrier in Africa. There are some that are trying to survive but the problem for Nigeria with low cost carriers is the kind of fundamental services needed for this type of business are not here. For example, the classification of the airports is a major cost benefit that is not here. If Lagos City Airport in Lekki catered only to domestic flights, then the cost of landing would be reduced, the cost of parking would be reduced. Furthermore, you would only need limited infrastructure at that airport. The airline would allow check-ins on phone, which would further reduce costs and result in a reduction in ticket prices. Another aspect is more cultural: In Nigerian culture, we always like to welcome our guest with water and food. So Nigerians expect to have a full complimentary services.
What are your goals for 2020?
We will upgrade our hangar to a bigger space so we can have up to three or four bays. We also want to upgrade our training facility so that we can partner with a training organization either in Europe or the Middle East to provide training for pilots and engineers. The main thing we are currently looking at is fleet renewal. We have also signed a MoU with the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology in which they will be supplying young engineers to our maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities for on-the-job training. We will keep the best talent to replace our aging workforce. We are also in the process of automating our activities and have entered into an excellent software agreement from a developer specializing in MRO software called Ramco Aviation.