Informal airline collaboration eases travel pain

Nigerian carriers are mapping out strategies to ease travellers’ pains as they informally collaborate, writes, WOLE SHADARE

New strategy

Nigerian carriers may not have perfected the Spring Alliance agreement, but they are quietly collaborating amongst themselves to solve one of the biggest problems of flight delays and cancellations that is fast taking the joy out of air travel through informal arrangements.

A few years ago, Nigeria’s fast-rising airline, Ibom Air and Dana signed a codeshare arrangement that was expected to be a game changer in the travel industry. Inexplicably, the deal failed to materialize which has more to do with Dana that was going through repositioning. As a result of that, the deal was put on hold.

The Codeshare alliance which was to be referred to as the Dana-Ibom Air Alliance, was expected to commence full service in June 2021 according to a joint statement by the carriers. It was to be the first-ever codeshare pact in the Nigerian aviation industry because of the enormous work the two companies put into it at that time.

This partnership, which is a significant milestone for Nigeria’s aviation industry, would have afforded Dana Air and Ibom Air a business arrangement whereby both airlines jointly offer flights to common destinations while operating services to destinations that are not within each airline’s regular routes.

Masterstroke

It was expected to be a masterstroke for resolving incessant flight delays their passengers are subjected to. The deal was expected to give impetus to reshaping and redirecting the airline industry which is riddled with poor services and other associated vices.

For the Nigerian aviation industry, the collaboration that could ensure the stability of the carriers was lacking before now as experts in the aviation sector see code-share pacts among airlines as a panacea to the trouble of connectivity, low capacity and serious flight delay currently experienced in the country’s aviation industry.

The Chief Operating Officer of United Nigeria Airlines, Osita Okonkwo, while speaking with the media last week said his carrier was on the verge of formalizing its interline agreement with some carriers, stressing that at the moment, it had informal arrangements with Dana, Air Peace, NG Eagle and Aero Contractors to airlift their passengers whenever any of the airlines is incapable of doing any of its schedules.

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“Last week, we did close to 300 passengers in a day with the interline arrangement. We are working to develop the alliance,” he stated.

Airline interline agreement allows passengers to book through itineraries on multiple airlines with less hassle than booking each one separately. Usually, if two airlines have an interline agreement in place, they will handle the check-in and baggage for each other’s passengers.

Objective

The objective of the alliance is to curb flight delays among the six partners, give one another technical support and also ensure that passengers are airlifted by any of the members, no matter, which airline ticket the passengers have.

Some operators told Aviation Metric that the cost of running airlines in Nigeria is bringing a lot of creativity to many of them as they look at how to cut costs in the face of mounting high operations.

They said it is no longer economical for them a 100-seater aircraft to fly with 50 passengers or less than that when they can easily share passengers which they hinted that though it is done informally, it has been working for them at the moment.

Group Manager, Marketing and Communications for Ibom Air, Essienette Aniekan admitted that nothing came out of the Ibom Air-Dana Alliance because of certain issues that had to do with their partner at the time.

“We collaborate with airlines on codeshare that is not formal and that has been ongoing for a while and which is beneficial to all,”

The airline industry is one of the most competitive industries in the entire world. A large number of them are making losses.

This is primarily because of their lack of efficiency. Since success in the airline industry is solely based on efficiency, many companies have explored unconventional options to increase their profitability.

A code-sharing arrangement, therefore, refers to a situation in which an airline is sharing its code with another.

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Lack of commitment

For many years, the idea of bringing carriers together to save airlines so much pain as a result of flight delays and cancellations that are becoming the norm now in the Nigerian aviation industry had ended as a talk show with no visible plan of actualising it. In February 2022, United Nigeria Airlines announced a codeshare business partnership deal with Air Peace.

Chairman of the airline, Chief Obiora Okonkwo, said aviation stakeholders have realised the huge potential in Nigeria, but grossly untapped and had chosen to do away with unhealthy rivalry and embrace the spirit of collaboration. According to him, from the available records, about 10 million Nigerians travel by air regularly.

He added: “We have about 10 operators in Nigeria who are doing scheduled flights. It’s still nothing for 36 states and for 200 million people. It’s still a big market. Therefore, we have agreed among the operators that we should stop unhealthy competition but we should be more collaborative in our approach and our nature. We’ve all agreed that we should all look out and be our brother’s keeper.”

“I’m here to announce to you in advance, with all sense of joy and happiness that in the next couple of days, I will sit side by side with my brother and friend, Allen Onyema to sign a groundbreaking agreement that will open up a new way of collaboration in the industry.

“In it, you will see Air Peace and United Nigeria working together as partners. If you buy an Air France ticket and then you check in to KLM, don’t you ask yourself why? Why should that not work in Nigeria?”

Not much has been heard about the partnership as the two airlines are yet to concretise the deal or work out the modality to actualise it.

Nigerian airlines

Past failure

The pact tagged ‘Spring Alliance,’ was expected to see the country’s largest airlines minimize the impact of delays on travellers and offer better service across the board.

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The Spring Alliance was to consist of six domestic Nigerian carriers, namely Air Peace, Arik Air, Azman Air, Aero Contractors, Max Air, and United Nigeria. The pact was expected to cover the country and the region’s largest airlines, aiding passengers when required.

This is a common practice in other countries, especially among significant alliances like Oneworld or Star Alliance and through codeshare partners if needed. Unlike other groups, Spring Alliance wants to see more airlines join its ranks in Nigeria and from across Africa.

Given that many airlines in the region suffer the same issues, and that the alliance won’t see traffic being hurt for anyone, it could be beneficial to several carriers. Indeed, as the number of carriers in the pact rises, passengers will face fewer disruptions while flying.

Renewed hope

Managing Director of ValueJet, Capt Dapo Majekodunmi, is already thinking in that direction for his airline. He said if the airline is to go international it will be by code sharing with airlines in the African region to give it a better reach.

Clearing house bottleneck

A former Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, who had always clamoured for domestic codeshare/ interlining stated that the idea of interline would help to grow the sector and for the general comfort of passengers who are at the mercy of airlines whenever there are flight delays and cancellation without an alternative to passengers who are left stranded at airports.

Demuren flayed the slow process of interline/codeshare in Nigeria, stressing that this should have been done a long time ago in the interest of the sector.

Last line

Deeper partnerships see two carriers invest more in coordinating their operations. A codeshare is viewed as the next step up from interlining and sees airlines working together by placing their ‘codes’ on each other’s flights.

Wole Shadare