By Emmanuel Elebeke
The management of British Airways, yesterday marked 80 years of operation in Nigeria but described the Nigerian environment as harsh to the aviation sector.
The Head of Middle East, Africa and Central Asia Sales, British Airways, Paola De Renzis, who spoke in Abuja, said the airline had been facing very difficult times doing business in Nigeria due to the current economic hardship in the country, but had to cope because of the long standing relationship between Britain and Nigeria since 1936.
Rezis, who described the Forex scarcity challenge as a big threat to the aviation industry, however, admitted that the situation is gradually getting better than it was six months ago, due to the intervention of the Central bank of Nigeria, CBN and Federal government.
Said he: ‘‘The current economic recession has been a big threat to the British Airline but for the long standing relationship we have with Nigeria, we have strived to remain afloat.
‘‘We are happy, the Nigerian government, the minister of finance, aviation along side the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria have intervened and the situation is much better when it comes to foreign remittances.
‘‘So, if you look at the current situation compared to where we were like six months ago, we are in a much much better place. The problem is still there and of course we are talking to key stakeholders in Nigeria.
‘‘I can confirm to you now that we are in talks with the minister of finance, minister of aviation and we will keep on monitoring the situation. We have been around for 80 years and we are very committed to Nigeria,’’ he said.
Beyond the economic challenges, the Head of MEACAS, said the airline has plan to build on its success into the next 80 years by reviewing its operation and making necessary adjustment to meet future challenges.
‘‘Our plan is to be around for another 80 years if not more. It is our expectation that things will keep improving in the next weeks, months and while we keep reviewing our operations in the country.
‘‘We have a long standing relationship with Nigeria and we are very proud of the relationship with Nigeria and many other countries in Africa. British Airways started flying into Nigeria in 1936. At that time, it was Imperial Airways. It flew from London to Kano, had a few stops in between; at the time it took seven days.
‘‘The good news is that things have changed, now the flying time is less than seven hours. We now have daily flies from both Lagos and Abuja. This 80 years of flying into Nigeria confirms the commitment we have to Nigeria, we are very happy with our relationship with Nigeria,’’ said Renzis.
On how business in Nigeria has been for 80 years, he said, ‘‘if we’ve been around for 80 years, it means that our business has been successful in Nigeria. When we started with the first flight, it was carrying only air fright, there were no passengers on board, that was 80 years ago, it was a success.
‘‘So, we extended our services from Kano to Lagos then we started carrying passengers. So, if we have been around in Nigeria for 80 years, growing with a number of flight operations, then it means that it has been a successful journey.’’
Impact on Nigeria
Speaking on the impact of BA on Nigeria, the Country Commercial Manager of the company in Nigeria, Kola Olayinka, said the airline had impacted Nigeria in many ways through its bilateral relationship.
‘‘As we are celebrating 80 years, we also have Nigerian airlines that have been going to the UK, though not quite 80 years; we have Nigerian Airways, Midview, Arik and all that.
‘‘If you move to corporate social responsibility, what we have done or what is happening is that because we offer that service, a lot of people move in between our two countries and there is a lot of business between the United Kingdom and Nigeria.
‘‘I am not sure whether the UK is number one or two largest trading partner now, China may have moved ahead but I am not sure. The UK is either number one or two trading partner with Nigeria. So, economically it is important that we provide that link.’’
In the aspect of Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, he said that the company had done so much to affect lives of Nigerians through different CSR projects.
‘‘I don’t want to go back memory lane, but I remember Nigeria in 1999, I was the operations manager for the 2737 that Nigeria gave to all the players and some of us who can remember know that we offered that aircraft to take the players from all the parts of the country, from Lagos, Kano , Port-Harcourt and all that.
‘‘We have a school in Kuje-Abuja that we have been supporting for years, we have another one in Lagos, the list goes on that we have been supporting. More recently, last year, we sponsored six Nigerian students from School of Aviation Zaria for a leadership programme. ‘‘So, if we are operating in a country, we have to impact that country. I will end that by saying I am Nigerian and I am the head of British Airways in West Africa and there many others who have been working here for many years. Our operations in Africa in general is successful. We are happy with Nigeria and many of them.’’
Class of aircrafts operated in Nigeria
Speaking on the class of aircraft the company owns in Nigeria, Olayinka said, ‘’we fly daily 777 in Lagos daily, Boeing 777 in Abuja and in South Africa, we have a daily 8080 flying Johannesburg to London Hithro. The second one is Boeing 747, now three days a week. I think our product is very competitive.
‘‘BA fly daily into Lagos and Abuja for so long. We were the first airline to fly internationally from Abuja.’’
On flying cost comparison between Nigeria and other African countries, he said ‘‘unfortunately the time has changed significantly. What has changed is the time, our forex situation, the rate of the $ and the fact that Naira has devalued.
‘‘Again, if you look at what happens in Ghana and here, it is not exactly the same, they are actually much better than us in because of share exchange rate.
‘‘We had a meeting earlier with the minister of finance and what everybody is hoping is that things will get better in 2017. If you look at Ghana right now, all the economists around, I am not one to tell you that they are in a better position.
‘‘We need to take not just Nigeria into consideration but all other countries where we operate. Currency devaluation affects the way we price. We need to address that because if we have been around for 80 years and we want to be around for another 80 years, we need to adjust our pricing according to profitable demand.’’