Africa: 5 things Nigeria’s national carrier should learn from Africa’s most profitable airline, Ethiopian Airlines

airshow carrier

15 years after the federal government of Nigeria shut down Nigerian Airways, the country’s national carrier, President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has decided to revive the once revered airline.

On Wednesday, July 18, 2018, the refurbished airline was unveiled under a new name, Nigeria Air, at the Farnborough International Public Airshow in London.

During the unveiling of the airline, the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said that 81 routes (domestic, regional and international) have been identified for the airline which is touted to promote Nigeria’s cultures and traditions.

Nigeria Air joins leading national carriers across Africa that include the South African Airways and the Ethiopian Airlines.

Currently, the Ethiopian Airlines is considered the most profitable national carrier in Africa with laudable achievements in the last five years.

The airline has reportedly doubled the number of passengers, surpassed a target it set for 2025 and increased its profit fivefold.

The Ethiopian Airline’s ability to manage to grow its seat capacity by 177.7% in seven years is also one of the achievements that have placed it atop other national carriers in Africa.

Owing to these achievements by the Ethiopian airlines, here are five things Nigeria Air can learn from Africa’s most profitable airline.

Hire professionals, not politicians
The Nigeria Air should ensure the management team is made up of professionals with a vast experience in running the airline.

According to a report by Business Insider South Africa, Ethiopian Airlines’ current management team has over 421 years of airlines industry experience between them.
The Ethiopian government leaves the management team, in their capacity as the professionals, to run the company on sound business principles.

The airline’s current CEO, Tewolde Gebremariam kicked off his career in the airline in the cargo traffic handling department in 1985 and worked his way up the ladder gradually.
At the unveiling of Nigeria Air, Sirika had said the national carrier will be a Private sector-led and driven.

He also said it will be run as a business, not a social service and government will not be involved in running it or deciding who runs it.

Never rely on government loans
The management of the Nigerian Air should not expect or rely on government bailouts as it has been witnessed in many government agencies in Nigeria – even state governments. This is because since the government had made up its mind to make the airline a profit-making business venture. The Ethiopian Airlines doesn’t expect a cent from the government either does the airline go cap in hand seeking a bailout because it is run strictly like a privately owned airline.

Corroborating this, Sirika said “The investors will have full responsibility for this.
“The Nigerian Government will not own more than 5% (maximum) of the new National Carrier. The government will not be involved in running it or deciding who runs it.”

Need for infrastructure and skills development
To leverage on the success of the Ethiopian Airlines, Nigeria’s national carrier, Nigeria Air must get it right in terms of insourcing infrastructure and skills development for staff.
According to reports, Ethiopian Airlines has Africa’s largest aviation training academy where over 4,000 pilots, marketers, and flight-attendants are trained annually.
The airlines also own the largest cargo terminal in Africa, the largest technical maintenance facility.

Sirika hinted at plans to achieve this feat with Nigerian Air saying “We’ve been talking to Airbus and Boeing (and they’re present at this event) regarding the aircraft for Nigeria Air, and we will be making announcements very soon. We are currently negotiating.”

Adopt a clear vision, and then stick to it
For now, the Nigerian Air should adopt a clear-cut vision which it can generate its mission statement from onward.

Sirika said: “New terminals in Lagos and Abuja Airports will add 11 million passenger capacity in each of the two airports. Lagos currently does 8 million per annum (was built in 1979 for 200,000 passengers annually), while Abuja does 5 million.”

Daily Maverick newspaper reports that for the Ethiopian Airline, the national carrier started by revamping its international network. It created a morning schedule of about 52 flights to African destinations, and when these flights returned, the same planes would be used for an evening schedule for international flights to the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the Americas, Ethiopian Airlines.

The Nigerian Air will need to imbibe the strict schedule and efficiencies of the Ethiopian Airline, which resulted in its profits more than doubling in five years to $1.3 billion.

Government’s good management
For, Ethiopian Airlines, the national carrier employ the industry standard number of staff needed on board each flight.

In the same vein, none of Ethiopia’s civil servants or public officers receive complimentary tickets on the airline.

The Nigeria Air and its management should ensure that good management is employed to prevent frivolities and unnecessary cost.

By Gbenga Bada


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