It’s not easy competing in airline business – Med-View MD
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Med-View Airline, Alhaji Muneer Bankole, speaks on the ongoing airlift of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia; plans to rebrand the airline’s London operations. Excerpt:
The airlift of Nigerian pilgrims to Saudi Arabia has commenced, with your airline starting from Kaduna. What is the preparedness of Med-View for a seamless operation?
We give thanks to Almighty Allah. The 2017 airlift has started and we wish all our intending pilgrims a safe Hajj mabrur and all the carriers that are participating in this exercise a successful airlift operation. For Med-View, we have three aeroplanes for this exercise. The first is a 747-400 which has capacity for 463 passengers; the second a 777-200 which Med-View is introducing this year for this exercise. And the third is a B767-300 with extended range. This shows the seriousness and commitment of the airline; we are fully ready.
You have been involved in Hajj operations for many years, what will you say about the number of pilgrims?
Because of the construction work at the two holy mosques in Saudi Arabia, the number was cut down. But today that number has returned and Nigeria has about 95,000 quota. But the economic situation and the dollar exchange rate is affecting the pilgrims and there have been appeals to government to assist the people to fulfill their religious obligations - both Muslims and Christians - because this is the only window that people have for such spiritual exercise that brings blessing to the country.
Are you worried that another foreign airline is involved in the Hajj airlift and do you think indigenous carriers have the capacity to airlift all the pilgrims?
Today we have a strong partner. Max Air has about three airplanes which carry almost 500 passengers each. Med-View has three which carry about 1,000 per day. If you put all these together and multiply by the number of days we have, it is too few for the Nigerian carriers to carry. I repeat it is too few for us to carry. But we are always open to competition which makes us to believe in our partners’ capacity; our friends from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
What is up on your London route now?
Med-View commenced operations into UK on November 20, 2015. We have airlifted close to 80,000 passengers. Our commitment today is to rebrand the London operations; that is why we decided to bring in the 777-200 aircraft. It is a brand new aircraft. We have reconfigured the Business Class with Air France seats, and we ensure that what the customers are asking for in terms of inflight entertainment, is totally inbuilt.
You are ready for a long haul to the UK without any authority infringing on your operations?
When you have issue of safety, you don’t discuss it on the pages of newspapers; it has to do with peoples’ lives and safety. Med-View has been known for safety compliance; Med-View has been known for ruggedness, today we are 11 years on the hajj airlift.
Today we are the only airline running London route; we are still sustaining it, it is not easy to be with the big boys and I am proud to tell you, I was invited to Brussels (for IATA meeting). I sat down to address the entire 28 EU nations and I want to thank them for listening.
But is the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification now in place?
There is no EASA certification, what you have to understand and what people need to know is that the UK authority, including EU communities said for an airline to come from a third country; you must have a TCO, Third Country Operator Permit. That TCO will enable you to fly within their airspace. It is just that when we fly in their airspace, we pay into Euro control. Euro control is just like the over-flight charges we pay to NAMA. So they take over-flight when we fly Algeria into France before you get to UK. So somebody is taking responsibility.
So the EASA certificate is one thing that borders on European communities; the IOSA certificate is the one that comes from IATA which is the most superior to all airlines. As an airline we are certified with the E-IOSA.
How are you looking at the operational environment in Nigeria now? How are things working?
In fairness, it is very worrisome. If we ask ourselves, how many airlines we met on the way and where are they? It is not a
On international fares, it appears European carriers are driving away the local carriers?
Let me tell you the game. European carriers and the Nigerian carriers are the same. We are governed by one body. Each country has one regulatory authority, you can call it different names. In Nigeria as you know, it is NCAA. In Dubai, you have DCAA. They are all under ICAO, and IATA runs the commercial side of it.
The basis of everything is for government to create the enabling environment to let each airline survive. In other parts of the world, you see government subsidising so many things. Here, you know the problems we have with charges. We have talked about creating an environment for you to thrive. It is very challenging here and that’s why you are seeing decline in our number. Membership of AON (Airline Operators of Nigeria) was 26. Today you can see only six or seven.
Are you looking at doing international flights from Kaduna?
I was with His Excellency, the Kaduna State Governor and his team. We were in Beijing and Mumbai and I commend the governor for his noble idea to develop this state with high commitment to aviation. There is an interested party from China that is prepared to build a strong MRO (Maintenance Repair and Overhaul) facility. In the whole of Africa, we have only three MRO facilities. So we can save between 600,000 to one million dollars that we spend on maintenance abroad if we have our own MRO.
The governor has shown interest in this and that is why Med-View is fully on ground here. We run daily flights from Kaduna and we have done Umrah flights from Kaduna and we are here again doing Hajj and Insha Allah very soon, Ethiopia is also partnering with Med-View.
Alhaji Muneer Bankole