Nigeria is one of Africa’s biggest aviation markets. The West African country in August resumed domestic flights and announced the 5th of September as the resumption date of international flights initially from Lagos and Abuja.
We spoke to Joy Ogbebo (pictured above) the Chief Executive Officer of Mamaj Aviation Consult, on everything Nigerian aviation and female aviation professionals in Africa.
1. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the Nigerian aviation market?
I would say it has, tremendously. Sadly, as we know, the pandemic devastated world economies and brought air connectivity globally to a halt. There is a huge range of activities that goes on here. The Travel industry as the vehicle and driver of the economy was worst hit by the pandemic and the crippling effects are quite enormous. The industry in Nigeria is still very much smarting from the effects.
2. Nigeria recently resumed domestic operations. How is the market responding to the new health measures and eased restrictions?
The aviation industry will never be the same for a long while. There is still a lot of apprehension. People are reluctant to fly. In the first few days after reopening of Domestic Airports, the load factor was extremely low. But gradually, it’s picking up. According to IATA’s June passenger survey, 55% of respondents don’t plan to travel in 2020. There are predictions that this will take time. So, we should not expect miracles just yet. From all indications, travellers are adhering and adjusting to the new Covid-19 health protocols in place. But then again, the need to travel at this time is still very low. The partial restrictions in place are affecting businesses. Reduced business travels. A lot of conferences/seminars have been put on hold; most corporate organisations now hold virtual meetings and this has considerably affected the need to travel.
3. International flights are scheduled to resume from 05 September. How excited is the industry with this development?
There is so much excitement about the reopening, more, on the side of the traveler. So many Nigerians were stranded in different locations around the world for months, so it’s cheery news to know that soon the international airspace will be opened and hopefully, people will able to reunite with their families again. Being stranded outside base is not the best experience for anyone. But the decision to reopen the international skies is a welcomed one. Even though some notable airlines operated evacuation flights within the lockdown period, obviously, they were unable to fill this gap, because the fares were quite costly and way too high for the average traveler.
4. In the wake of Covid19 and the redundancies, is there still demand from young people to join aviation?
Yes. More than ever before, In fact, I have never had so much pressure from young people to join Aviation than I do today. It’s quite overwhelming as well as challenging, ` trying to paint the actual picture of the situation, the pandemic has created. Obviously, the reality of job losses and the fact the industry is more or less in a hibernating mode, is not deterring their dreams.
5. In the past months, the relationship between Nigerian airlines and Nigerian pilots and cabin Crew has not been at its best. What do you think has to be done to ensure a mutual understanding?
At the moment, most of the airlines are not operating at full scale, so it’s natural that all staff may not be actively engaged at this moment. To sustain operations and survive the times, some jobs may inevitably have to go for some airlines to stay afloat. So there is need for improved communications between the Airline management and the employees. More than ever before, there is also the need for empathy as well as transparency. I strongly believe that these situations can be better managed in such a way that it is mutually beneficial for all.
6. In your view, how will Nigerian Aviation change after the COVID-19 pandemic?
A lot will change. It will take time to stimulate people’s interest in flying again. This will largely affect load factor, poor load factor will negatively impact airlines revenue. If airline’s fortunes continue to dwindle, your guess is as good as mine. However, positively, it will improve our health and safety processes.
7. What challenges do you see in rebuilding passenger confidence post COVID-19?
Fear of flying during the pandemic has drastically reduced global air traffic, which has also been restricted due to border closures. Trust will be a major challenge. To rebuild trust, there has to be a lot of sensitization. People are scared of the confined space in the aircraft cabin. Passengers need to be reassured of their safety if and when they decide to fly. It’s something that has to be consistently done overtime.
8. How long do think it will take for Nigerian aviation to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic?
Sincerely, its going to take some time, experts are forecasting 2 years from now. So we are looking at 2023. The industry needs urgent government intervention to survive this phase; otherwise, they may go under. The industry is not vibrant at the moment. In fact, it is still in a hibernating mode especially with the effect of the covid-19 pandemic. It will take some time for it to return back to pre-covid-19 status.
9. How can African Airlines build resilience to survive future challenges?
Airlines in Africa needs to be more forward thinking post Covid-19. There is need for synergy amongst Airlines in Africa. Reviewing bilateral agreements, removing unnecessary boundaries and obstacles in a bid to ensuring seamless connectivity between countries within the region. Work at rebuilding and strengthening relationships, being cooperative, rather than competitive.
10. Do you think there is a need for Nigerian airlines to consider Joint Venture (JV) post COVID-19 pandemic?
That is worth considering. Airlines are struggling to stay afloat. The industry is distressed. There is an urgent need for the government to come up with intervention mechanisms to rescue the airlines. In the absence of government support, If airlines must survive, then, the need to consider merging and collaborating in different areas cannot be overemphasized. Merging may help to make the airlines more formidable.
11. What is the one thing you would want to see Nigerian airlines improve on?
Stability. There has never been stability, as far as I can remember, in all my years in the industry, stability has always been a challenge. However, we cannot also take away the fact that the operating environment comes with many challenges which stifles growth. A healthy financial structure and consolidating on local and regional routes will be one of the stabilizing factors.
12. What is your message to the millions of African aviation female workers at this difficult time?
Females have to put in extra efforts; the pressure from the covid-19 will naturally increase these pressures at these difficult times. If there is 1 year that has taught us so many lessons, it’s year 2020. It’s been an eventful, overwhelming and very trying year….to say the least, it’s been traumatic. People have lost their jobs, lost loved ones….. My heart is with everyone who has suffered due to the pandemic. In the midst of the madness, to millions of African female aviators, my message is that of hope, faith and resilience. Do not lose it. Irrespective of the circumstances at the moment, let’s keep a positive attitude and continuously finds ways to stay motivated. This is a phase that will pass.
13. Any last words?
Aviation has gone through many storms, threats and crisis in the past; notably, the 9/11, SARS and the World Economic Meltdown. Although, this pandemic has been the worst so far, I strongly believe that the industry will bounce back with time.
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