Monday, June 17, 2019 6:12 pm
Aero Contractors was first formed in 1959 in the Netherlands before being officially registered in Nigeria in 1960. At inception, it was wholly owned by Schreiner Airways B.V. of the Netherlands. Aero. as widely reported in the media, later became a partly Nigerian-owned company with an initial 40 per cent Nigerian shareholding in 1973. This grew to 60 per cent by 1976 in fulfillment of the requirements of compliance with the Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Decree of 1977, also known as the Indigenisation Decree. By January 2004, Schreiner Airways was bought over by CHC Helicopter which acquired a 40 per cent holding in Aero, while the 60 per cent majority share remained within the lbru family. By July 2010, CHC sold its interests in Aero and the airline became wholly owned by the Ibru family until it was taken over by AMCON in 2013 due to its huge indebtedness.
In this interview with ADEMOLA ADEGBAMIGBE and YOMI OSOBA, Captain Ado Sanusi, Aero Contractors Managing Director, appraises his airline’s journey for the past 60 years, the challenges of the moment and the plans for the future
On Tuesday, 21 May, Aero Contractors marked its existence in Nigeria and how will you describe the journey so far?
Yes, we spent a whole week marking the 60th anniversary of Aero Contractors which started in 1959 and later became Aero Contractor in 1960. The journey of course, like any business, has its ups and downs and we thank God that the company now is moving towards recovery. Of course, the company has its glorious days when it was a brand that nobody could deny that it is a household name. The brand was built based on safety, reliability . Oil and gas companies were depending on it especially the early 70s towards mid 90s when the oil and gas industry was booming and the company was the major logistics operator for oil and gas, especially international oil and gas companies. At a time, we had the monopoly of all the oil and gas out of gulf of guinea, mostly everybody knew Aero Contractors and eventually we ventured into airline business . We later went into mainstream airline, of course with the down turn of the economy and also with the fall in the naira value, that affected it and it resulted into Aero Contractors going into a kind of insolvency, a time when as I said in my speech, threatened its existence as a company.
Fortunately, very very fortunately, the federal government looked at the brand, Aero Contractors in time, age, it is the oldest company in the country regarding aviation and also the staff that were employed and it decided that no, it is not a company that should be allowed to die. So, through AMCON, they came with the mandate of turning it around to inject new investors, new blood to make sure that the company goes back to stabilization and goes back to recovery, to life, and that was when I was appointed Managing Director/CEO. The company was put under receivership and then we were given the task to stabilize the business and move it forward.
The singular action of appointing a receiver manager and putting a team together actually saved the company, with the receiver manager, though a lawyer but a businessman understood the business sense and with his support and AMCON, with very dedicated staff we are able to stabilize the business and move the business into a recovery path. So, yes, AERO has seen a lot of ups and downs, now we have stabilized the business and we are on a recovery path.
Since inception, AERO has never had any fatality apart from one helicopter crash. How has the company been able to maintain that safety record? Or do you operate with different aircraft?
We have the same brand of aircraft but we maintain our aircraft ourselves and the high standard of maintenance is a contributing factor to our safety record. We maintain our airplanes by ourselves and the other factor is the culture, we have a safety culture, if it is not ok, if it is not serviceable, we will not go. We will rather delay an airplane or cancel a flight or drop an airplane; we will not manage. In AERO Contractor, there is nothing like manage in this sector, if it doesn’t meet the standard, it is grounded, if it doesn’t meet the regulatory aspect of it, it is grounded, so there is no cutting corners, we maintain our airplanes, highest standard and this is how it is. I mean the culture has been there right from 1959, a culture of high standard of maintenance, high standard of safety and that is what we have developed over the years. So to answer your question, we have the same brand of airplanes but our standard of safety is higher.
When you were appointed in February 2017, were you scared? If not, why not?
Noo. When I was appointed in 2017, I was coming in for liquidation, I didn’t think that we were coming into stabilizing, because when I came and I saw the amount of work to be done, I thought to myself that it might not be possible and I was going to tell AMCON that ok, I think the best way is to liquidate. But after a few town meetings, we saw the commitment of the staff and the zeal at the meeting I had with the senior staff, the passion they had (and still have) and also coupled with the fact that if you liquidate the airline, the country cannot boast of any airline that is more than 50 years. So that is something that I patriotically looked at and I said let us not give it our best, even at the point of dying you will still struggle to make sure you will survive and that also coupled with the fact that the sacrifices to make sure the company survives. The sacrifices are there. Also if you look at AMCON, they said they are going to give us all the support to make sure that we succeed.
So since you came in, what major improvements have you put in place to stabilize this place?
Well the major thing is to improve the maintenance, capability, daily checks for the aircrafts that we have which we call the C-Check. I know that it has been in the news that we do our C-Checks, some people have said that they ‘are over blowing it.’ We have to because this is the first time, a company in Nigeria and in central Africa for that matter is conducting a serious heavy maintenance check on an aircraft. It is a production, if you go to our hanger, it is a production company, we are taking an aircraft, we are piecing it, we are doing all the things that are done outside the country, we are doing it right here, we are doing it in Nigeria. Of course under the supervision of supervisory agencies. We did it the first time, we are doing it in the supervision of South Africa, Ethiopia to make sure we were doing it right and we were happy to have done it three times and we are doing for third party, we have done three times, of course the aircraft are flying and we are doing now for third party aircraft and very soon we are going to local companies, they will benefit from local C- checks that we are going to do in the next two weeks.
The company since inception, has really contributed to manpower development in the aviation industry, kindly speak on this…
Yeah I think apart from Nigeria Airways, I stand to be corrected, there is no other company that has contributed to human capital development in this country in the aviation industry. It is a normal thing to say that you are trained by Nigeria Airways or you are trained by Aero Contractors because of the age. Aero Contractors also believes in training, they are passionate about training and that is also contributing to the fact that they have been operating since, operating with well trained staff, engineers, pilots, so they contribute in human capital development.
How is that aviation school of yours?
Of course we do have an approved training organsiation which we are now developing because of our experience.We have an approved training organization that trains cabin crew, dispatchers, engineers, we are also expanding it to ticketing, to other non regulatory training, ticketing reservation and all that, we are now doing that for third parties. There are some staff that are retiring from the system, I don’t want them to go with the knowledge that we have acquired over the years, we are bringing them back to train staff. So have a training organization that we to develop to a centre of excellence.
What have been your challenges so far? How are you confronting them?
Yes, for any organization there are challenges and for us, the only reason we come into work is the challenge of surviving. The major challenge is human management, especially Aero Contractors is heavily unionized. That was my basic challenge that I saw in the beginning but how did we manage the challenge, is to have series of town hall meetings, try to make sure that we try to give the staff a first hand information and not only first hand information. If you allow lack of information to the staff, then you allow rumours to continue and when you allow rumours to continue, it is where you are going to have a human capital problem and that is why we did a lot of town hall meetings, we did a lot of informing the staff what we are doing and everybody was carried along and everybody knew that our
main aim. The first is to make sure that we repair our airplanes, so we took it as a project, everybody was contributing to the fact that we must make sure that, that aircraft that is in our hanger must come out as one of the c-checks that we are going to do because that is key to the survival of Aero Contractors. So, whether you are a sweeper, loader, project manager, CEO is to make sure that that airplane comes out, that is our key to survival, that is what we kept telling them, our aim is to make sure that we conclude the C- Check successfully and thank God we did that and we are very happy with everybody that participated in it and thank God our prayers were answered. We did the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, now we are doing the 5th.
What is the key management, staff loyalty going on here?
Well the key issue that is going on here affects management and staff loyalty is communication. If you communicate your to your staff what management intentions are and what are the reasons for taking decisions to this level, I think It will go a long way. Transperancy is the key word when it comes to managing people because when I take a decision and I do not communicate well the reason to why I have taken that decision I will leave it to interpretations by a lot of people but when I communicate well and be transparent about it, then the staff understand. When I was telling them we are going to do c- checks with our engineers and by the way the only way we could survive and on the way to doing this c check, some of us will lose our jobs, some of us will not see the end of it, we will disagree with some people, we will fight with some people but the most important thing is that we should not lose the focus of that c- check.
The C -Check being done by your officers or ones done by outsiders which one is better? Is it not possible to compromise standard because you are doing it yourself, rather than somebody coming from outside doing a dispassionate job, please explain
That’s a very good question but it is very simple to. Let me relate it to driving, so you will say that a driver driving you, will probably drive you better than when you drive yourself? Do you think that is true? So I think that it is expensive, so at a layman point of view, if you are telling me that somebody doing the c check outside will do it more dispassionately than somebody doing it in house will compromise, it is the same way you said you trust a driver outside to drive your car than you yourself driving it. Actually, you bought the car, it is your own car, if anything happens to the car it is you, but if you have a driver driving and anything happens to the car he goes.
Now let me come technically, the act of conducting a c -check is a standard, you know, global standard. There are items that we call , done by Boeing that is the manufacturer there, they give you and say this is what you have to do, we have one c, two c, four c and six c. They give you the pack, to do one c, this is what you are going to do, if you are going to do two c, this is what you are going to do, four c, six c, this is what you are going to do, and everything is documented and say ok, so there are items that are put together as checkings. So the engineers will go ahead and do all the items and sign it off, this is what we are going to do, this is what we have done and then a quality inspector will come and check the quality of work they have done and also sign it off, and then the project manager will come and look at what the quality inspector and the engineers have done and say yes this is correct. I will give a certificate of release of service and then the Civil Aviation Authority, the one that has authority will come to review everything that has been done, everything the engineer has done, everything the quality inspector has done and everything that the project manager that is the one certifying has done and then review everything. When he has reviewed everything vis a vis what the manufacturer has said should be done and he will now say this airplane is now airworthy so it can fly. So there is no way it can compromise.
Aero is indebted to some banks, what is your relationship with those banks now?
We are under receivership. That is the beauty of everything. That means the receivership. AMCON has taken over. AMCON has taken some of the bad loans and we are now going to be paying to AMCON but we are under receivership. When you are under receivership you are protected until you are out of receivership.
What are your future plans?
No, we have not done enough, actually we have just started, life as I have said in my last interview, you either have to be growing or you are dying, you must continue to grow. We have achieved the first c -check, that is not where we want to be, that is just the beginning, for the Maintenance, Repair, Operation (MRO). I want to see the MRO grow, we have just done with the first step of MRO, I want to see the workshop grow, capability to capability, we do wheel, we have battery shops, but I want to see us developing our workshop to see that we can do some repairs and stuff. Those are the capabilities we will like to do in future and then we will want the capability of the MRO itself, we want to make sure that it is not only the 737 we are handling, we want to bring the 737, classic MGs now, we want to increase the capacity of the house, we want to have a bigger one that can take more.
We are taking two airplanes and we want to see whether we can take four airplanes at the same time. We want to make sure that Nigeria becomes a destination for maintenance in west and central Africa, in fact in Africa. We have the capacity, we have the manpower, the talent we have everything to boost of that so that is what I am looking at the MRO level. For the airline, of course we want to go back and surpass where we were before, to be a dominant airline in west and central Africa with our footprint over the domestic market. So I want to see that and I go to airports in the country and connecting them to Abuja and Abuja to Lagos, Port Harcourt connecting Kano and then encourage and stimulate the domestic market growth which I think has been left for some time so we want to see a ten, fifiteen aircraft for the entire Aero contractors with new brand new aircrafts coming into play in the future.
That is what I see or what I think Aero Contractor should grow, and of course for the charter which is the helicopter, of course we are going to take our rightful place, we were the pioneers and I think we should continue from where we play important role in the gulf of guinea, not only Nigeria, we want to see we have all it takes to provide logistics services, helicopter services to major oil and gas companies, not only in Nigeria but gulf of guinea, we have seven helicopters now, we have. We intend to have a minimum of 10 to 11 helicopter operations in the next five years that is coming up and again we want to capture back the market in the oil and gas sector of Niger Delta and indeed the gulf of guinea region.
With all you have remunerated now, and all you mentioned now, could we say Aero will be in the leadership in the next five years?
I think it is possible. It is something that is achievable, I think with a little bit of hard work and dedication, I think we can achieve coming out of receivership in five years. I believe if we continue with what we are doing and we have the right investors that will invest in equipment and human capital development. I believe we can harness what we have already and the talents we have to make sure we get out of receivership, it is quiet achievable projections.
Speak on your Corporate Social Responsibility
You see when we were asked about our CSR, I told them that in Aero Contractors, we place that in a high priority because if you look at it, it is the very fabric that holds the society. That we are in business, and despite the fact that yes we provide services to the society, we have to return something in return, so it is a very fabric that binds us with the society and we take it very seriously. We have embarked on a lot of things to give back to the society because it is actually the society that made us big as we are for 60 years.
We did fitness awareness walk on Saturday to Maryland and came back, it is not just the walk, we are creating awareness to the society, let them see that it is good to have we are living and you will see at times go on we are going to roll out a lot of things that will improve the environment. We are also mindful of the kind of things we put in the atmosphere, we are also trying to make sure we grow trees, we encourage school children to grow trees, we are sponsoring students in our host communities in Port Harcourt, Warri and other areas. We in talks with NGos that take relief materials to IDPs in the North East part of the country when we start flying to Yola.