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Arik Air - The Future of African Aviation

By Martin Russell
July 7, 2008

The aviation industry in Africa has rightly earned a reputation for poor maintenance and for being dangerous and careless, but a new Nigerian airline seeks to change all of that. Martin Russell takes us through Arik Air’s bold plans to change the way Africa flies.

Both the internal opinion of African air travel and that of onlookers overseas was bleak before the arrival of Nigeria’s newest treasure, Arik Air. It was hard to avoid the resounding truth that both the skies above Africa were home to an inferior standard of aircraft, and the airports and aviation facilities on the ground were inadequate. Hampered by somewhat less predictable weather and frequent storms, aviation in Africa is far from predictable with temperamental skies that readily unleash the horrors of sheet lightening and torrential rains that would alarm even the most sophisticated of pilots.

Take May 2002, for example. Nigeria’s then domestically owned airline, EAS (Executive Airline Services) Airlines, suffered a colossal loss of passengers and crew when one of their aircraft ploughed into a populated neighborhood. On May 4th, the BAC 1-11-500 twin engine jet crashed upon take off from Mallum Aminu Kano International Airport, killing 75 passengers and crew, as well as killing 70 souls on the ground upon where the jet uncontrollably dived. Not surprisingly, the Accident Investigation and Preventive Bureau (AIPB) concluded the crash had been a result of gross negligence, and a complete disregard for safety.

5N-ESF, the Doomed BAC-111
Image © kanoonline.com

The Tragedy in Gwammaja was Horrific
Images © Associated Press

Unfortunately, there are all too many accidents that can be highlighted in an article such as this, to demonstrate the state of aviation in Africa. The grave truth is that African aviation is a perilous industry, one that is in need of an exemplary airline that can both install confidence in those who travel by air in Africa, and an airline that will rid the industry of the negative connotations so closely attached to it at present.

Just in time, as African aviation was almost going backwards in sophistication and progress, that exemplary airline did turn up. On Monday the 30th of October 2006, Arik Air launched commercial operations with their brand new fleet of gleaming Bombardier CRJ-900 aircraft. Arik immediately addressed the issues that were relentlessly obstructing aviation’s safety standards on the continent—the effectiveness of maintenance and aircraft engineering—and made them a priority, unlike practically all other African airlines (according to the wealth of AIPB reports published in the last few years).

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Photographer Kenneth C. Iwelumo comments,
"Conventional wisdom holds that the majority of aviation facilities in Africa are either derelict or out-dated.
Arik Air's modern maintenance hanger and base at LOS is evidence to the contrary."
Photo © Kenneth C. Iwelumo

Arik sealed a deal with one of the most prestigious European airlines, Lufthansa, that ensured a sound, experienced body of engineers would be handling Arik’s gleaming fleet. A five-year deal was signed with Lufthansa Technik that promised "total technical support" covering two 737-300’s, three CRJ-200’s and three CRJ-900 aircraft. Lufthansa Technik has also indicated that it intends to to continue the existing servicing plan beyond its original five-year commitment.

Arik Air’s growth was accelerated after the demise and liquidation of Nigeria’s previous national carrier, Nigerian Airways. Arik Air took hold of internal operations in Nigeria, and offered high quality, efficient service throughout the nation. On December 4th 2007, Arik Air was even invited to become the national carrier of the Republic of Niger, an offer that was accepted.

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A Republique du Niger 737,
Soon to Wear the Arik Air Livery
Photo © Paul Morley
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Nigeria Airways is Most Famous Nowadays
For its "Aviation Graveyard"
Photo © Kenneth C. Iwelumo

However, the ambitious vision of the chairman, Sir Joseph Arumemi-Johnson goes far beyond conquering the internal routes within Nigeria. In fact, not only have the high quality services they offer spilled out across the vast continent through the use of the latest Boeing 737-700NG aircraft, but the 24th of April 2007 was a clear indicator that greater plans lay ahead. Long haul ambitions were evident when the airline ordered four Boeing 777 aircraft and three Boeing 787 Dreamliners, to assist their future plans to link Nigeria with major international routes to the United States and Europe.

Arik Air’s growth has been rapid and consistent, they have proved to be the antidote to the events on May 4th 2002, and although the airline is still very much in its infancy, there are no signs of things slowing down—in fact they are moving at a startling pace, with recent developments suggesting they are in need of more aircraft to aid their swelling operations. At Boeing, Arik is considered a “prized customer” and recently a delegation, led by the chairman, flew to Seattle for the purchase of two Boeing 777-200LR, three Boeing 777-300LR, seven Boeing 737-900, and five Boeing 737-800/900 aircraft. Additionally, Arik Air signed for the acquisition of three Boeing 747-800 planes. A significant step for both Arik Air and Boeing, Mr. Scott Carson, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes said, “The future is bright for aviation in Africa and Boeing is proud of its relationship with Arik.”

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One of Arik's 737-300s, Acquired from United
Photo © TZ Aviation

Not only has Arik Air provided a high quality, safe and reliable series of far reaching operations across Africa, but it has also achieved great things on the ground for aviation. Arik Air is determined to reach as many destinations within Nigeria as they can, in order to ensure the steady socio-economic growth of Nigeria, and Arik also looks to build the biggest hangar in West Africa with the support of Boeing, Lufthansa Technik, and financial institutions affiliated with the airline, such as Zenith and Intercontinental Bank. These initiatives, combined with Arik's flight training school in Nigeria, have unending benefits for the progress of African aviation. Arik is also trying to upgrade the existing facilities (designed at for classic airliners), and make airports and the aviation infrastructure more hospitable to a new, safer, and more economical way of flying that Arik Air can most certainly pioneer.

As Mr. Carson said, the future certainly does appear bright for African aviation. As the fleet continues to grow in number, I doubt it will be long before I see that gleaming fuselage and purple emblem descending on the ILS in British skies. It ought to make people reconsider those long held views of the run down, filthy and downright unsafe jets associated with African aviation as Arik Air ascends and bridges the gap of air standards that was once such a perilous void.

Written by
Martin Russell

Martin Russell is a keen aviation enthusiast and has a particular interest in the progress of African aviation, and particularly Arik Air. Hoping to become a pilot, he is looking to attend the Oxford Air Training Academy in England. This is his first article for Airliners.net.

7 User Comments:
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Posted 2008-07-11 17:12:45 and read 32768 times.

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Username: PRGLY [User Info]
Posted 2008-07-21 21:24:25 and read 32768 times.

Just wonder how and when Arik Air will start filling up their status of an "National Airline of the Republic of Niger". Till now I did not notice any kind of movement to open any kind of activity in this own airlineless nation. I certainly believe that domestic flights to cities like Agadez, Zinder, Tahoua or Maradi as well as regional flights to neighbouring countries can work. In longer term even flight to Paris to compete with AF could be fruitfull.
I am following very carefuly development in sub-sahara Africa and I really wish Niger to join well developing countires like Burkina or Mali.

Username: MillwallSean [User Info]
Posted 2008-07-24 15:12:47 and read 32768 times.

I like your article, espescially the first part.

Arik air has increased quality of service in Nigeria and together with Virgin and Aero.
I have a sort of hate-love affair with Arik. they are great for Nigeria but they dont pay all their bills at the moment and they are rumoured to be involved in very serious and shady business practices like money-laudering.

Rumour has it the airline was funded by money looted from the government.

There is also the questionmark over political connections. What happens if present administration loose power. Arik Air is their toy so it will be interesting.

There are still many hings we dont know abour Arik but their product is a welcome development in Nigeria.

Username: Coolpictures [User Info]
Posted 2008-08-02 21:22:54 and read 32768 times.

wow cool. i love the pictures

Username: Frans747 [User Info]
Posted 2008-08-24 23:45:21 and read 32768 times.

The agreement of service maintenance with lufthansa Technik is already making his fruit. In fact the two 737s have already been serviced in the Lufthansa Technik Malta facility ...

Username: CrimsonNL [User Info]
Posted 2008-08-31 12:03:20 and read 32768 times.

Interesting article, I found myself wondering what about that airline when I saw some photo's earlier. Sure looks promising, lets hope for the best!

Username: Jcamilo [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-01 09:14:54 and read 32768 times.

wow terrible!! i think that it must have more security!!

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