in Air Transport / Features

Pilgrims and progress…

Posted 27 November 2018 · Add Comment

Nigeria-based Med-View Airline is a scheduled passenger airline that has succeeded –despite numerous survival challenges over the years – largely as a result of its involvement in the airlifting of pilgrims. Chukwu Emeke reports.

Pilgrims have certainly helped Med-View Airline to progress, according to its managing director, Muneer Bankole.
“Between 30-35% of our revenue yield is from Hajj flights and we have airlifted more than 300,000 pilgrims since 2007,” he explained.
The airline, which began flights by airlifting pilgrims from Nigeria to Jeddah in 2007, started scheduled domestic operations in 2012 and embarked on regional operations in 2014.
It gained attention during the 2007/2008 Hajj operations, when it received approval from the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) to carry out rescue operations for pilgrims stranded in Ilorin, Lagos, Sokoto, Maiduguri and Yola airports during outbound flights to Saudi Arabia, as well as those stranded in Saudi Arabia for inbound flights into Nigeria.
Med-View has airlifted more than three million domestic passengers since 2007 and partners with Saudi Cargo Airline annually to airlift more than 46,000 tonnes of cargo.
It recorded a 42% increase in its revenue at the end of December 2017 and emerged as the 19th airline on the log of international airlines in terms of high passenger traffic in 2017, transporting 72,175 international passengers.
Bankole said none of the 15 countries in west Africa has a national airline, despite a population of more than 300 million people. This has helped make Med-View flights into these countries, which have a huge Hajj passenger volume, pay off.
Scheduled passenger volume has been positively affected, thereby boosting the airline’s drive for route expansion, he added.
“We airlift a lot of passengers from Conakry for instance, in a country with a 90% Muslim population. We also have a huge volume from Mali. This is why we go to most of the destinations we fly into. In west Africa, particularly, we go to places where we can generate enough steady Hajj traffic and this has helped us.”
The only Nigerian airline currently quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), Med-View operates an all-Boeing fleet consisting of B737s, B767 and B777. According to Bankole, four of Med-view’s aircraft were bought using its cashflow because “the best way to survive is to own your asset”.
The airline operates flights to eight local destinations and three weekly regional flights from Lagos to Freetown in Sierra Leone, Monrovia in Liberia and Accra in Ghana.
It had launched Lagos-Abuja-Dubai flights in November 2017 and “the aircraft was 85% full on its first flight out of Lagos”. However, the operation was suspended in January 2018 to enable its Boeing-christened `Abeke' aircraft to undergo a C-check and refurbishment in the United Kingdom involving an increase in its number of seats from 221 to 242.
Following the Dubai flight suspension, booked passengers were airlifted via another airline through an interline arrangement.
Having begun international flights to London and Jeddah in 2015, Bankole says the airline is discussing with the South African and United States authorities the possibility of adding two destinations to its routes before 2019.
On the London route, it carries an average of 8,000 to 10,000 passengers monthly and transported 9,000 passengers specifically in January 2018.
He notes that airlines in Nigeria are operating under very harsh conditions, making it difficult to compete with big players in other parts of the world.
Bankole makes a case for his government’s subsidization of airline costs, such as fuel, stating that Med-View’s fuel consumption within the last five years has hit N22 billion (more than $60 million). He appealed to his government to encourage the survival of local airlines, as is done in other countries of the world.
He further emphasised the importance of having a basic maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility “such that if anything happens to your aircraft, you can maintain it here. We need vendors who can provide this support within 24 hours, as they have in Europe.”
The airline’s relationship with international partners has contributed to its success. Such partners include Euro-Atlantic Airways of Lisbon, Portugal; Pluna Air of Uruguay; Air Atlanta of Iceland; and Saudi Air Cargo in a general sales agency (GSA) agreement.
 

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