Airlines Explore Niche Option For Survival


Airlines Are Experimenting With New Strategies To Survive In The Complex Aviation World, Writes WOLE SHADARE


Bristow’s ‘all-coach-class’ experiment on some routes, a major departure from industry practice for scheduled domestic flights, is the latest in an industry trend toward niche marketing.

Bristow Helicopters (Nigeria), arguably the largest helicopter operator in Nigeria, assumes that nearly all its Lagos-Abuja- Port-Harcourt-bound passengers are leisure travellers paying good fares and that filling the plane with them is a better bet than waiting endlessly for premium passengers from the domestic airports terminals for a business class section that might go mostly unsold.



This is coming as the carrier plans to acquire two Embraer aircraft as soon as its niche market, which comprises high end, affluent clients, grows.

The operations, which commenced on December 5, 2016, provide more glamorous services to meet their needs. Bristow seems to have taken advantage of many commercial airlines that sell mostly economic seats with none of them tackling the hassles over the years of what customers experience  before they even set foot on the plane.

What is has simply done is tailoring service to specific market niches, sometimes to an extraordinary degree. The carrier aims to mimic the serenity of flying private at a fraction of the cost.

The airline’s tickets still aren’t cheap, destinations are limited, and schedules aren’t as extensive as traditional airlines.

The clients, despite the huge cost that accompanies the services, still beat the costs of owning a plane or chartering a dedicated private flight while offering an escape from the hubbub of major airports.

Instead, passengers drive up to a small terminal, hand their luggage to a concierge, and step directly on-board.

Speaking at inspection of facilities of its terminals in Lagos and Abuja, Base Manager, Bristow Helicopters (Nigeria), Ayo Stilo Oni, said they are providing exclusive services to their customers.

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His words, “We wanted to provide a service that is different. We don’t have that type of service yet in Nigeria. Most of the time, you have people with private jets, which is for the high and mighty. We are looking at an area that is not yet saturated in the industry.

So, when you provide this kind of service and make it available to certain people; it is open for people in oil and gas, it will bring people away from the known and join us.”

He explained that the airline has concluded plans to acquire two more Embraer airplanes as the operation grows. He said: “We do have a reservation desk. People who want our service would have to go there and actually get that service from there.

We don’t collect cash. It is not like you go to MMA2 or the other domestic terminals where you go and buy a ticket. We don’t do that.

You have to make a reservation with an agent or with the oil company’s agent. “Remember I said we have a reservation desk; an external reservation desk.

You have seen the service and you have actually seen that is different from the regular air shuttle. “This is highly exclusive service and you also know that it comes with a price. Our prices are different from the regular economy passengers. It is almost like a business class service.

That is why we are targeting bank managers, CEO and all these fast moving people who want to get to Abuja at the right time and get to their destinations in time.” If you are going for a meeting at 9am, we make sure you get there in time. This is a normal thing overseas, which is difficult to do here. We have been doing that regularly.”

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Oni said Bristow operates the services to Abuja and Port-Harcourt from Monday to Friday twice daily and on Saturdays.

On the planned closure of Abuja airport, the airline chief disclosed that the airport is going to be closed in March for rehabilitation, adding that the Federal Government has made Kaduna available as alternative airport.

He gave assurance that his airlines is poised to provide shuttle services to its clients between Abuja and Kaduna, which he said is just 45 minutes by helicopter. Oni said, “We have gone to Kaduna.

We have also gone to Minna. We will make a choice of where to go that will be convenient for our passengers. Helicopters don’t need runways. The Abuja runway is only thing that will be closed.

The airport is not going to be closed.” “If the airport is closed, there won’t be any communication. Helicopters will still be flying. We will use our helicopters to transfer passengers to Kaduna or any other locations that are safe and convenient for our passengers”, he added.

The carriers seem to have borrowed a leaf from Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines that have made some flights all business class.

Air France has even created a specialised airline, called Dedicate, to cater to a narrow group of business travellers: engineers and executives in the construction and oil and gas industries, who must often get to out-of-the-way places where tourists rarely tread.

These efforts are in addition to the subsidiaries that some of the major traditional airlines have started to compete with low-fare rivals. Delta Air Lines has Song, for example and United Airlines, a unit of UAL Corporation, has Ted, both meant to attract priceconscious domestic leisure travellers, the niche exploited very profitably by JetBlue and its peers.

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In Nigeria, airline business can be divided into two clear categories; full service and low fare, and passengers know exactly what to expect from each. Now those lines are blurring.

The old full-service airlines are becoming less so, the no-frills carriers are adding some frills, and both are varying their offerings more from route to route and flight to flight.

Along with optimising costs and revenue, these airlines and others are trying to stake out a distinct brand identity, and to avoid being seen as equivalent to and interchangeable with rivals.

An aviation analyst told that, ‘’Everybody in the industry is trying to differentiate themselves.”

Bristow’s approach has been to try to attract high-end clientele such as top officials of blue chip companies, oil magnates and affluent Nigerians who make up the majority of adult leisure travellers and who generally travel in style. Once you win their hearts, you know they’ll talk about it. They’ll become evangelists for the brand.


As fast as airlines innovate, however, competitors can copy. There are indications that another carrier is already tinkering with same idea.

Passengers can expect the airlines to keep experimenting with services tailored to all kinds of market niches, whether sumptuous, Spartan or between.

Wole Shadare