Last week Air Peace operated its inaugural flight to Johannesburg and resumed another direct connection between Nigeria and South Africa. Chinedu Eze writes that the airline provided relief to Nigerians who wished to return home for the Yuletide
Shortly before the lockdown around March 2020, South Africa Airways stopped its daily operations to Nigeria and thus ended direct commercial flight between two Africa’s largest economies.
Nigerian carrier, Arik Air had stopped flights to Johannesburg in February 2017, so after South Africa Airways stopped its direct flight operations, travellers wishing to travel to either Nigeria or South Africa had to connect through other countries.
But on Thursday, December 17, 2020, Air Peace reconnected the two countries and this was celebrated by Nigerians that have yearned to travel to their motherland without hassles.
Many of the Nigerian passengers who spoke to THISDAY during the Johannesburg-Lagos flight said that they were happy that a Nigerian airline was taking them home and recalled how Air Peace evacuated Nigerians during the xenophobic attacks and also during the novel coronavirus lockdown.
“Since then we fell in love with Air Peace. So when many of us heard that Air Peace would start operation to South Africa, we cancelled our flight with another airline (name withheld) and bought Air Peace ticket, which will take us directly to Lagos. So this is the time to pay back to our airline through patronage,” a passenger who simply identified himself as Desmond, said.
The Chairman of Air Peace Limited, Allen Onyema who spoke to journalists shortly before take-off of the flight to Johannesburg said that the management of the airline was happy that it has restored the direct connection between Nigeria and South Africa and noted that it was in fulfillment of the promise the airline made to Nigerians that it would not only provide flight service to domestic destinations but also to international destinations.
“We promised Nigerians six years ago when we started Air Peace that we are not only going to connect cities in Nigeria and communities in Nigeria but also that we will connect this country with other nations of the world and gradually we are getting there,” he said.
He also stated that Air Peace envisaged that the route would become competitive and the only way the airline would sustain its operations on the route is to provide efficient service, which the Nigerian carrier was poised to do.
“Well, we don’t want to kid ourselves that we are the only one on the route for now, some other people also will want to come there. So for us to sustain the tempo of whatever we are doing we have to be pragmatic; we have to be strategic too in our planning. And, like I said, we have been following our business plan since 2014; we started meticulously. Everything we said we would do since 2014, by the grace of God Almighty, we have been able to achieve them. And we believe we can do more with articulate planning,” the Chairman said, adding that direct connection between South Africa and Nigeria would improve relations and enhance stronger economic cooperation between the two major nations in the continent.
The Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Air Peace, Mrs. Toyin Olajide during the inaugural dinner in Johannesburg said flights between Nigeria and South Africa would reinforce the economic cooperation between the West African nation and the Mandela country.
“To me and indeed the entire management of the airline, this flight is more than just a commencement of scheduled flight into Johannesburg; it is the solidification of the economy and commercial ties between these two giant African countries – Nigerian and South Africa. It is the exemplification and reflection of a mutually beneficial relationship. It is an implementation of our bilateral air agreement and furtherance of the progress of Nigerian and South Africa, and the promotion of unity between the citizens of South Africa and Nigeria.
“I recall that we flew into this country on September 11th, 2019 and evacuated 503 Nigerians in two separate flights. Even though the circumstances were somewhat auspicious, that incident heightened the airline’s desire to kick off scheduled flight into the country.
“And today marks the accomplishment of that ambition. Also, on June 26, 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria, we flew into South Africa to evacuate 167 Nigerians.
“Against this backdrop, you will be very correct to say that we are acquainted with the South African terrain. We see it as an opportunity to connect both countries directly and we seized it. We are glad this is happening and we believe both countries will benefit immensely from the areas of employment creation, promotion of tourism, and facilitation of a seamless carriage of people, which is a prerequisite for economic development and other forms of value to be created along the chain,” she said.
During an interview with local media in Johannesburg, Mrs. Olajide acknowledged that the COVID-19 has devastated the aviation industry but noted that it is due to resilience and determination that airlines like Air Peace are able to sustain their operations.
“So it is understandable when people ask, how come you are able to start a flight and be stable? I mean, this is one question I have been asked several times, people are just wondering why we are able to build a standard flight.
“And I say to them that we have the vision to connect African countries. We try to provide seamless connectivity across the African cities. And for us to have been able to start during this season, it wasn’t something that we just woke up and then decided to do it.
“As I told you earlier, we wanted to commence this flight like two years ago, but plans have actually been in place, we have been putting in place all the necessary resources, all the parameters to ensure that the equipment, our Boeing 777 aircraft were ready, to ensure we have backup, to ensure we have the right personnel, the right resources. And when we accomplished these we knew were ready.
“Many Nigerians both in Nigeria and overseas, especially South Africa have yearned for Air Peace to start this operation. We know we have the capability, we know we have the resources and we are able to do this.
“And then we looked in house, we checked our business plan, we looked at all our parameters and we saw that this is the right time to go. And that is why we are here today,” Olajide said.
She said the priority of Air Peace is efficiency and customer service, remarking that the airline is satisfied when the need of its customers are met.
“Now for Air Peace, one thing that sets us apart is the superior services that we provide for our customers.
“So we give all customers the same service, because they have a reason why they patronise us, we understand that much. And we know that we have to listen to them, they are very important to us.
“So we do not joke with the services that we provide to our customers. With Air Peace on this South African route, the first thing you are even going to benefit from now is safety and of course, because this period is a very delicate period; the airline ensures that it is compliant with the COVID-19 procedures, the cockpit crew, the cabin crew, they are all in compliance; they understood the procedures regarding this COVID-19.
“And before you can even board our airplane, you have to have a negative COVID-19 result from approved laboratory,” the COO said.
Olajide said even under the high season of the Yuletide period, Air Peace still introduced promo fare, selling tickets at a very affordable rate and operating a very beautiful aircraft, Boeing 777.
“When we were coming from Lagos to Johannesburg I had passengers onboard, one of them came to me, a white guy, and he said, Madam, you don’t know what you have done for us,” she said.
Also speaking during the inaugural dinner, the Minister, Consulate of Nigeria, Mr.Ezenwa Nwobiala who represented the Consulate General of Nigeria, said that Nigerians and the Consulate were pleased to have Air Peace operate to Johannesburg.
“We are so proud of today being a day we are launching our best airline to South Africa. We see this as an opportunity to deepen that strong relation between Nigeria and South Africa. As you are all aware, Nigeria and South Africa are the two powerhouses of the African continent.
Wherever the two of us agree a lot of things work out for good and it is our hope that with the entry of Air Peace to the South Africa route, it is going to provide opportunities for our two countries. And I want to say that this airline – Air Peace has been tested and proven.
“Right from 2019 when this airline started emergency operation to South Africa route, it has been a successful one. We as a nation have been so proud of the airline and we are so happy because a lot of people have been waiting for this day. I want to say congratulations to the airline, the management of the airline for making this a possibility.
“In fact, a lot of Nigerians have been waiting for today, they have been asking us this question, is it going to work out? And we said let us see, that this is going to be, because with what they did during the evacuation flights put a lot of confidence on this airline. And I want to thank them again for all that they have done and I pray that this is going to be the best of all entrances to the South African route,” he said.
A director in Air Peace, Mohammed Danjuma, said the introduction of flights to Johannesburg is a growth trajectory that is in tandem with the airline’s long term plans to connect Nigeria to the rest of the world.
“Air Peace’s flight to South Africa is a growth trajectory in line with the expansion plan that the airline has. Safe for COVID-19, which had put a pause globally on everybody, I think by now we would have been celebrating a lot more destinations not just the South African destination that we have just launched today. But be that as it may, the airline is not deterred, we are hopeful and looking up despite all of the challenges that are being faced globally. We hope to continue to grow the airline, discovering more destinations and reaching new continents, taking Nigerians and others as well.
“South Africa is home not just to Air Peace but to Nigerians. As you know there is a very large Nigerian community here and they enjoy a lot of bilateral relationship. So I think this is a huge turning point not just for the airline but for the two nations as well. Because this is another gateway that has opened that will further strengthen our relationship and boost trade among the two countries, and not just the two countries but between West Africa and South Africa as it were,” Danjuma said.
The sky looks brighter for the Nigerian carrier, which is boosting the image of the most populous country in Africa.