Alhaji Muneer Bankole, Chief Executive Officer of Medview Airline, expressed believes that indigenous carriers can participate effectively and successfully alongside big carriers to various intercontinental destinations. At a session with Journalists when Medview Airline begins flight to London, he said the airline prepared for the “big boys”. RUTH BAMIDELE, was there. Excerpts;
Bracing for Competition
I have always liked to tell you like I mentioned earlier when we started Hajj operations. We met the big boys but the fact remains that the big boys are now the little boys. It is not by anybody’s power; it is by the will of God and the way you market your business. We are growing and I want to tell you honestly, one of the secrets of this business is sincerity of everything you are doing. Don’t forget this business is not plane on the ground; it is ensuring that the aircraft is in the sky. It is done in an altitude of 40,000 feet to 45,000 feet where you don’t see anybody, there is no branch up there, you don’t see any fueller out there to give you fuel neither do you see maintenance guys to give spare parts for maintenance. So competition has been the way to grow for business as we have spoken now, what makes you make a difference? It is your service.
What kind of service are we talking here? Provide me a service between Lagos and Abuja and make comparism with what is giving you. I have flown in many airlines on the domestic front before we commenced this operation. I know when I leave my house in Lekki it takes me one hour to get to the airport to board one of those early departure flights. I don’t take breakfast because there is no way you can ask your wife to wake at 5 o’clock to be running kitchen for you. But if left to me there is nothing you will put in your stomach to get a 6:45am flight and get to Abuja at 8 o’clock and you don’t have anything on your stomach. And that again will add more headaches to your brain for a meeting that is slated for 10 o’clock.
So I started thinking of what to do, so the first thing I did was to make you comfortable and provide you a world-class breakfast. For those of you flying Medview you see your breakfast right on your lap, so that by the time you get down in Abuja you are ready for the day. We did the same thing on the lunch level so that you don’t have anything to cross your mind when you are flying, to be thinking something differently. So this is one of the things we have promised to put on the table and we will improve on it so that people will have a benefit and added value to whatever money they have provided for this business.
In addition to service, we had a partner from Ethiopian Airline and others who are our maintenance partners but the game here is this we value something that is indigenous and African. This is African man working for an African airline. Ethiopian has done nothing different in their market today; it is always about aviation. It is just a shame for Nigerian Airways to have been liquidated. Today the economy and the financial viability of that country lie on Ethiopian Airlines. So where are we today? So we are working with Ethiopian Airlines, we are working with Boeing and we are improving on our increase in fleet, by His Grace in the first quarter of 2016, we might be adding two more aircraft.
Connections from Gatwick
The first question bothers on the choice of Gatwick airport and what addition services or value Medview is trying to put in place to encourage or entice passengers flying on Medview to Gatwick. I will give you one secret today and I will tell you why Medview is different. You find us in this business today but I will tell you honestly that there is none of my colleagues in this industry that pass through the school I went to. You can go and write it down, and that is one of the secrets.
I ran 30 years on training on Nigeria Airways. If you find anybody that has similar experience, I wouldn’t mind to be challenged. That means I was grounded in all areas of aviation and we know the game. And that is what makes it easy for us to do what we call cost analysis before we ventured into international operations and did viable visibility study to run a project. I will tell a story of Yola before I go to London and the story of Maiduguri.
As soon as we put everything in place some of the other airlines started going to the place; they did not do any study, they did not even know how we came to be there but I bonded with the people of those states, so they see Medview as their airline. I was in UK on three occasions, I went to Heathrow and I went to Gatwick. I looked at what Gatwick is all about, I saw the traffic in Heathrow it was very huge in a number of millions, I saw the traffic in Gatwick in a number of millions and I told my colleague that we are going to choose southern terminal in Gatwick.
Immediately we were putting the project into place we were talking to Limousine services. Anybody who flies Medview from Lagos to London, Gatwick in Business class, he has a waiting Limousine standing by for him. Anybody who flies Medview on economy class has a contract already signed on Gatwick express linking you from the Gatwick airport southern terminal to where ever you are going. We are not adding any money to that. We have already done this to look at those of us who are probably going to the central London. And for those who are going up north they value Medview in Gatwick than going back again to Heathrow.
So who are those flying for the benefit of all? Are they not Nigerians? Have you ever seen a white man flying out of Heathrow coming to Nigeria except they are coming to do business in this country? The magnitude of the traffic going out there is my people, so additional value will be added in such a way that we are turning this business to a Nigerian airline as we have mentioned before by providing Nigerian cuisine. I did mention that on Medview flight you are going to eat efor ri ro, egusi, ediki kong, ofe owerri and abula. So if you fly home away from home, what other airline will you want to fly?
I did not say they will not change because when we came out to say we are flying domestic some of our colleagues were selling food on board. The moment we came in, giving you a full lunch, dinner and breakfast they stopped selling. Today we have come to give you N149, 000 as your airfare between Lagos and London as against N350,000 that you are paying. We have come to give you business class N599, 000, we have assured you this as our entry price for you to have a value for your money. We are providing you 32 kilogrammes, two-piece for economy class passenger so that people can have enough to bring back home by economy. And for business class you will have three piece of the same value of 32 kilogrammes.
For those of us who know this business we always want to add value to you. Exactly what we have said to you today, there are many advantages available in Gatwick airport, one of the secrets is that the airport is bought and owned by a Nigerian. We are going there and by the grace of the Almighty we will make a change.
I am particular happy to say that a couple of years that we started the statement of the head of training here, we have raised so many captains, we have raised so many senior first officers and some of whom today you find them in some airlines. We have more than eight of our captains that went to Air Peace and we are proud to supply them such manpower because they have been leaving us and they know that we spend so much money training them, so everybody is poaching all of them because of their skills and the training we gave them. So we are still proud of them and we are ready to train more so that Nigerian aviation industry will continue to grow.
Point to point operation
As we all know that IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) is the baby of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), most of the airlines today cannot attain that level without having IOSA certification. Today we have done the third workshop on IOSA and we are having the international auditing of this company come January 2016 and that makes it to close the deal and by His Grace we will call you here to watch it. I want to tell you we are not pricing anything, as soon as we move to London, we will not be talking to you only of London, we will be talking of our new partner who we are discussing with this code-sharing in this new project.
Drug Courier by Airline Crew
On my visit to the UK, we visited the Home Office, I know definitely it is one of the criteria, we were given some materials, some news items, today we have held a meeting with the British High Commission in Nigeria, they will be here tomorrow because their Home Office has directed them to come and work with us. As a new airline coming into the market, a lot of people will like to play some games, we are not unmindful of that, we are working seriously with the British High Commission and with our security partner AMLL which is partnering with our new trained security personnel to bring out the best of this issue that you have mentioned. That has made us to feel comfortable in commencement of this London route because for them to offer this free service I think it is a good thing for me to tell you that we use this medium to appreciate the British High Commission for offering this service.
In-flight Entertainment and Timeliness
We are also in discussions with some of these Nollywood people to partner in this area. There is one thing that keeps Medview ahead of others and that is on-time, reliability, we don’t negotiate with time at all, except for any reason may be for A check. We take the aircraft off the line. For domestic operation an average we carry with three aircraft is 45,000 monthly. Ideally the statistics should be between 1500 and 1,850 and if you multiply 1500 by 30 days it will give you 45,000 an average. That is what we carry on domestic and if you multiply that by 12 that is over half a million. That is the secret of the game. Why did they fly Medview? I myself as the CEO I fly with customers, I sit in the economy and I ask questions in the economy, why did you chose to fly Medview? Their answer is always, we feel very safe when we find people like you in the industry who knows about the game operating a business like this.
We are always on time and we fly you because you keep the trust in our mind and when we say we are flying you, you keep to that time. Again why do they fly Medview? They will say your in-flight crew, they are very beautiful, they are very handsome, they are polite, they do a very good job. Your meal is fantastic, what you give to us is enough for me to divorce my wife when I get home (laughs). So, on the Accra, Ghana route our traffic for one year is over 480,000. We are moving from Accra to Liberia so that is will not be just Ghana, Ghana.
London operation is as follows, we operate four times weekly; we start from Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. The Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays flights depart 11:15 and arrive Heathrow at 17:15. And the Sunday flight departs 1:15 flight in the afternoon because we have considered those who are going to churches. If you look at our Sunday flights we always keep them late so that those who go to morning service will definitely have time to come and that is one of the good things God has also used to guide us. So for the departure out of UK we are operating out every flight 22:10 pm; that is out of Gatwick. And I will tell you the reason, let me give you the gist so that the other airlines will learn something.
We consider our fare to be the same if you buy our ticket from Enugu to London and we fly to Enugu you buy it at N149, 000; you will get to Lagos free, you will board Lagos to Gatwick, on your return we will go back to Enugu on the same fare. We have applied to all domestic routes, for any Nigerian who buys ticket from Yola no matter the cost of fare from Yola to Lagos it is a complimentary lane we are flying. We have done this in Abuja; we have done this in Maiduguri. So if you are in Port Harcourt and you buy Lagos-Gatwick, it is as good as buying Port Harcourt-Lagos-Gatwick. The manager there could sell the ticket for you putting the Port Harcourt-Lagos lane as complimentary. How many airlines are doing this?