The new Chief Operating Officer of Dana Air, Mr. Yvan Drewinsky, told Chinedu Eze that Dana Air was already discussing with Boeing for change of its fleet, expressing optimism that air fares would be significantly reduced if government could cut its tax rates. Excerpts:
How much do you estimate the airline is losing each day it doesn’t fly? And how does that affect the crew, the planes and technical personnel?
I don’t have a rough estimate of that yet. But I know how much the public and passengers are missing out there because I know we have the best of the lot in our people; they are the best assets that this airline has, but unfortunately we have to let them go on leave, and obviously everybody seem affected by that.
We equally have to scale down our maintenance personnel who carry out skeletal services who are carrying out the necessary maintenance on the planes and make sure they are in state despite the state of things here and other essential auxiliary workers and like I said, the public are the greatest losers, so we are making sure we get back on track and fulfil our commitment to the Nigerian public.
How is your funding now that you are not operating?
We are lucky we have a board of directors, which has pledged its commitment and by having such board that fulfil such promises, we are actually having the enabling resources to run the company despite the fact that we are currently not making profit and maintain our fleet and ensure that safety is not compromised.
When do you take your aircraft overseas for maintenance?
The line maintenance are usually done here in Nigeria while we carry out the C and D checks overseas either in Istanbul, Italy or the US depending on what is needed to be done and which provider is available as well, which of them can do the job within the stipulated time. Right now we have a plane in Italy for the C-checks and it will return within the next two weeks.
How ready is the airline to re-fleet?
Before the suspension we were supposed to have two 737-500 configurations but because of the cessation of operation, it is on hold now but what we have done is that we have a contract that will deliver to us four Boeing 737. These aircraft will be put to work and will ease the tight fares that exist now due to limited capacity. So we are prepared to offer our people new airplanes, mid-December. We are having visitation from Boeing and we have had a presentation from Embraer for new aircraft and we will select which is the economical aircraft for us.
If the authority gives you the green light today to resume operation, how ready are you in terms of cockpit and cabin crew and other technical requirements?
We are ready to start operations but we need also to recall our people, we have a good understanding with our vendors who have been very good to us, fuel suppliers, maintenance personnel, NAMA (Nigerian Airspace Management Agency), the ministry and others, as soon as we are geared up for business the public will surely get informed.
What informed your aircraft choice, looking at an environment like Nigeria where the travelling public have the passion for luggage and not all the aircraft types have the buoyancy for luggage?
Firstly, you don’t choose an aircraft just because you want to choose one, you need to do an economic analysis of the environment, albeit the different model of aircraft like the Boeing series, you have to take into cognisance your operating environment and that will inform your choice of aircraft acquisition. When you do a re-fleet, you are not thinking of what you will get next year but the next service. The economics is not the direct impacts of how much l am going to make next year, now let me ask you, how much do you think a barrel of fuel will cost next week and next year, can you tell me the price, (laughter)?
No one can say, but the bottom line is this: with aircraft with new technology, we will be saving on our running cost. But again, let me tell you, we know the aircraft that is good for our businesses. I don’t think there is an airplane which has been built for the African market, l will say the planes for the African market should have the passengers in the belly and the baggage on top because it is a continent full of trade; you have business line and trading lines.
Take for instance as an African, everybody knows if I am going to China, I am coming back with 50 bags with me because I don’t trust the cargo company, so l am one person and I have 50 bags. So in such circumstance let us have the passengers in the belly of the aircraft. I am speaking metaphorically, again you have passengers on the flight to Abuja or Port Harcourt and majority of them have up to five bags each, so all these element are important for you to make the right approach and the right judgment as to what and which is the right plane for you.
That exactly is what we are going do and l say we will do it in two phases; we most probably will take a small airplane for a start and then progressively add something big, in the long run you will have something more spacious.
What is your evaluation of the future of the Nigerian air travel market?
Firstly, I will say it is underutilised because there is still a lot to be made, obviously the road and the train are also taking a share but the next one we need to grow is the airplane because we still have a lot to be made in the sky. We need to regulate it properly and you don’t need to kill the airlines with taxes. The cost of operating in Nigeria is many ways too high for what you have in exchange for whatever reasons. Here we are taxed a lot but we have seen some improvement, NAMA is doing a good job in traffic control with huge investment in that area, but FAAN is lacking behind but there are intent but must be made to materialise.
So what have been the challenges for Dana Air operating in Nigeria?
Definitely the cost, it is huge, if you are in the business and you don’t want to pay from your pocket, definitely someone will have to bear the cost and here it is the passengers that bear all those cost and the airlines don’t get much in returns. I think Nigerian need to work a little on themselves and try to have a customer-friendly environment, which will encourage people to fly because it is the safest way and can also be cheap.
What is your impression of the cost of aviation fuel?
I think we can have some help here, Nigeria being an oil producer should not have scarcity of aviation fuel and we should even have it at lower prices because we produce oil here. Why are we bringing something we have in abundance on our soil from the outside world? Why can’t we produce these things ourselves?
When do you hope Dana Air will resume?
Yes, it is for the good of the industry and the travelling public. With much gratitude to the board, we have painstaking work with the NCAA to go through the rigorous processes of the auditing which is encouraging because we are not the first and the last that we will go through such exercises. The suspension will make us come back stronger and better so that we again bring smiles on families that have been traumatised by the action, all this has an impact not only on the airline but with everybody around the airline. The number of people that are feeding from the airline is huge. All the service providers and employees have families while others directly or indirectly earn their means of livelihood from the airline’s operations. We really care about the public and our employees because they are the ones that are mostly affected.
Is this the first time you have been in Nigeria or have you been here before?
I have been here before.
What are the qualities that made the board to select you as the chief operating officer?
That is a question you will need to ask the board of directors (laughter). I have been an accountable man having been CEO for a number of airlines before somewhere in the sub-Saharan Africa and which is not far from Nigeria and again, I have worked in a multi-cultural environment for a number of years, with that I think the board of directors believe I can turn things around for the company.
Dana is an airline with a global brand, we are still developing our Nigeria market, but there are hiccups here and there which is normal, but it is not a day job, there is a lot to be done and our plan as accompany is to put the right people in the right place to be able to achieve the right goals. One is the expansion of domestic services and across the regions of Africa, the arrival of a new fleet, more economical types of air planes that will help save fuel, charges and optimise our maintenance resources because such planes will save your cost, which is beneficial to the customers because they are the one paying for the ticket to the airline.