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Aero is a Nigerian carrier founded in 1959 and based at Murtala Muhammad International Airport in Lagos. Aero operates both charter and scheduled domestic and international services supporting Nigeria’s oil and gas industries. The carrier utilises a narrowbody fleet of Boeing and Bombardier aircraft serving 12 destinations in West Africa.
Location of Aero main hub (Lagos Murtala Muhammed Airport)
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Africa’s unenviable record of government interference in the continent’s aviation system is demonstrated by no less than nine carriers currently surviving at the behest of their respective governments through a variety of financial support mechanisms collectively worth about USD2.5 billion.
In most cases this support serves only to distort any prospect of a level playing field, preventing privately owned carriers from competing effectively. Nigeria is even taking this a stage further as state support of private carriers is being undermined by a desire to relaunch a government owned national flag carrier. In other cases, such as Uganda, new state-owned airlines are planned to compete with successful privately owned operators in markets that often lack sufficient demand to support them both. Whatever the motives, and many of them are questionable at best, the outcome is sadly predictable.
In most cases Africa’s national carriers suffer at the hands of government mismanagement and interference, key among them is the continent’s largest airline, South African Airways (SAA) which is the subject of the biggest turnaround plan currently under way. This could offer a vital precedent if it succeeds - and if it doesn't.
Nigeria’s aviation transformation programme is making good progress with the government’s extensive airport renovation project of 22 federal airports reaching the half-way stage and the remaining 11 airports to be remodelled by 2015.
Foreign carriers, attracted by Nigeria’s 170 million population and economic potential are also bringing in more capacity, in particular Ethiopian and Emirates, while Arik and Gol are preparing to reopen a direct link between Nigeria and Brazil for the first time in about 20 years.
But domestic carriers continue to struggle under the burden of massive debt, high operating costs and the prospect of increased competition from a proposed new national carrier and potential start-ups.
Arik Air, Western Africa’s largest carrier, looks set to start delivering on some of its often repeated long-haul growth plans with the arrival the first of four A330-200s, with the second due by the end of Jul-2013.
The new aircraft are aimed at increasing frequencies on some existing services, including Lagos to New York, while also opening new routes with Sao Paulo high on the list. Arik states that other opportunities include China, United Arab Emirates and more points in Europe and the United States.
In addition Arik has placed firm orders for Bombardier CRJ1000 NextGen regional jets and Q400 NextGen turboprops as the carrier looks to expand its regional network beyond Western Africa.
But the carrier, which is heavily indebted to the government, also faces the prospect of another new national carrier being launched by the end of 2014 to provide domestic, regional and intercontinental competition.
Nigeria-based Arik Air enters 2013 with some prospect for growth having reportedly secured a USD2 billion credit facility to fund the acquisition of additional aircraft. The carrier has also held preliminary talks with Ivory Coast national carrier Air Cote d’Ivoire to provide that nation’s domestic network.
But despite repeated announcement of new long-haul routes, the previously aggressive Arik founded in 2006 after taking over the assets of bankrupt national airline Nigeria Airways has achieved little growth in recent years. Arik harboured pretentions of becoming Western Africa’s leading airline and candidate for membership of one of the main marketing alliances but has been weighed down by debt, the lack of a clear business plan and a meddlesome government.
The carrier has capitalised on the demise of a major privately-owned competitor in Air Nigeria as well as grounding of Dana Airways following a crash, which effectively reduced the domestic market to a duopoly with Aero.
Nigeria's government talks of rebuilding a failing airline industry in 2013. But the path is unclear
Nigerian aviation industry is at its lowest ebb in 20 years following a year that saw a crash kill 163 people, the collapse of a major airline and a domestic financing ban on the country’s two remaining largest carriers, one of which was also temporarily grounded by industrial action allegedly over outstanding debts.
Faced with a market that has been reduced to an effective duopoly between Arik Air and Aero, along with the associated very high air fares and often systemic corruption, the Nigerian Government is talking of pulling out the stops in 2013 to encourage more investment in the scheduled aviation sector – including fast tracking registration of four new unidentified airlines and the establishment of a new national carrier.
Both these initiatives were to have been fulfilled by the end of 2012, but have failed to meet the deadline.
Air Nigeria is resuming its long-haul network after services were cut during a period of restructuring, ownership transfer and re-branding three years ago. The privately held flag carrier, formerly known as Virgin Nigeria and briefly as Nigeria Eagle Airlines, will resume long-haul services in May-2012 to London Gatwick and Johannesburg with plans in the short-term to launch Rome and Paris services.
The Lagos-based carrier has had a false start, expecting last year to resume long-haul flights in Sep-2011, but plans this time are more concrete, with Air Nigeria loading schedules and fares. Its planned services will see notable competition, but like many routes in and out of Africa, are typically high-yielding. Air Nigeria’s forthcoming Lagos-London route is the latest in West Africa-Europe expansion, following notable capacity increases from Brussels Airlines.
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