‘Our fleet expansion will be gradual but sustainable’

by | November 23, 2017 12:55 am

Dana recently became one of the few airlines globally to attain the International Air Transport Association (IATA) certification. In a bid to leverage on the one of the benefits of this membership to expand its routes, the airline has disclosed plans to expand and replace its fleet to meet growing passenger surge. In an interview with Ifeoma Okeke, Obi Mbanuzuo, the accountable manager of Dana Air speaks on the airline’s expansion plans.

How will you sustain remaining an International Air Transport Association (IATA) member?

IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) is the worldwide standard that every airline must meet before you become a member. We got IOSA and now we are a member airline. We will have benefits in this. IATA looks at countries’ policies and lobby for things that help the industry.

It is also to help the traveling public by making fares cheaper. This can be done by reducing taxes. IATA successfully lobbied the government of Ghana to take away Value-Added Tax (VAT), fares came down by 17percent and traffic went up by over 25percent. In Nigeria we still have VAT on domestic tickets and IATA is working with us to work with government to do that. So, part of the benefit is that we are closer to IATA as a member. We get a lot of benefits with training and supports. IATA worked for the industry and Dana could have sat down and said we won’t join membership. A lot of training comes free of charge as a member and we plan to remain an IATA member going forward. This means we will keep our IOSA registration because that is part of the condition of remaining a member. So, we have to keep the standards and practices worldwide.

Are you looking at expanding you routes and aircraft fleet?

I expect that in a few years, we will have a lot more routes and aircraft. We do not say so many things because Dana operates in an economy that is very difficult to forecast. Things change rapidly but we tend to blend in that area. We have had a fleet improvement plan for quite a while. A lot of our plans also depend on financing by different financial institutions. When the banking industry had certain tremors, it also affected some of those plans we had. This is why we are careful with certain things we say. We know that not everything is within our power. There are discussions and plans to acquire new aircraft but those discussions are wide and varied. We are talking to aircraft lessors, manufactures and financiers because everything must come together to bring those airplanes. We want to expand sustainably. I was not in Nigeria last week; three engineers are not here. We have aircraft on heavy checks abroad. So, part of the work we are doing is trying to bring those aircraft in for the busy Christmas period. One thing we look at as well is that we always operate within our capability.

We do not bite more than we can chew. This business requires steady operational planning that requires you not to take risks, or do things that are well thought of. So, it might be a busy period, but if within our capabilities we cannot operate it, we will not operate it. Currently, we are operating about 89 to 90percent load factor. So, even without adding one more flight, we have 10percent of our seat that we can realistically fill over the busy period. I heard Owerri airport now has light. It is a good thing. As we all know by 6pm or 7pm, all our aircraft stop operating. If more airports get airfield lights, Instruments Landing Systems, (ILS), we can deploy more capacity.

Are you looking at total replacement of your airplanes?

Delta airlines and American airlines still operate hundreds of MD88 airplanes. Our airplanes are excellent airplanes and fully owned by Dana airline, so there is no rush to get rid of them. Yes, we do know that they are coming up to a point when we may have to get rid of them. We have a plan to add aircraft for capacity increase. We are spending between half a million and 800,000pounds for a C-check. The heaviest one is a D-check which is very expensive. When aircraft start going for D-checks, then you can start replacing them, it becomes one in of a newer type and one out. We are currently discussing with Airbus and Boeing. In third quarter of 2018, we will add something else to the fleet for increments at the beginning. So, when the rest start going for the heavier checks, then we will start replacing.

In leasing and acquisitions, which is more profitable and affordable?

To lease is the most expensive but it is a mode that can give you capacity quite quickly. With the necessary funds, you can considerably get a plane under wet lease in the next three weeks here flying because the plane comes with everybody including the pilots, cabin crew, engineers and spare parts. A dry lease is the type that you operate yourself; it gets registered under your name and country. So, it depends on the airline’s financial strategy. Currently Dana Air operates five MD83s, four is owned by Dana and one is leased. I will say that both strategies work for us. We own four of our aircraft. We can do what we want with them. Our pilots fly the leased aircraft but it doesn’t belong to us. We also have certain requirements that we must meet from the owners of the airplane.

Why do we have disruptions of flights during harmattan?

Harmattan period is when we have low visibility because of the dust from Sahara and that disrupt flights, especially in the afternoon when the dust is thick and visibility is very low. All stations have minimum landing numbers. Most of our stations have Instruments Landing Systems (ILS) now and we have minimum amount of visibility that you can fly. Once it is below that, you don’t go into any of those stations. It always improves in the night because it is dark. We do not have the system where we can land aircraft in zero visibility. We do not have CAT 11 landing systems in Nigeria and we cannot operate outside the limits set by the state. Minimum visibility for departure is 800m, which is same for landing.  You cannot go because you will be breaking the rules. The MD83 has auto landing, you only require pilot training but you cannot do it except the Airfield has the facilities such as the markings and the lightening for it. It is possible that Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) may purchase CAT111 equipment, but is it calibrated to CAT111? Is it published?