Nigerian carrier, Air Peace airlines, yesterday reestablished air connectivity between Nigeria and South Africa, operating its maiden direct commercial flight on the Lagos-Johannesburg route.
The services, already dubbed as a strategic entry into the route erstwhile dominated by Arik Air and defunct South African Airways (SAA), will boost trade ties between Nigeria and South Africa, and connect west and southern regions in about six-hour travel time.
As an achievement for the airline in its sixth year of operations, the inaugural flight on Boeing 777 aircraft was dispatched with a toast at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos. It was the second international route of Air Peace after Lagos-Dubai services opened last year.
Chairman of the airline, Allen Onyema, said it was another milestone for the carrier, especially coming at a downtime period in global aviation.
Onyema said though preparations for the route had been long in coming and earlier launch attempt was scuttled by the COVID-19 lockdown. “We have remained committed to serving Nigerian interest, and this seeing the light of the day is a demonstration of courage and our capacity,” he said.
He continued: “The fact that Air Peace is going there is certainly going to improve the bilateral trade relations. The trade is no longer going to be one-sided. Trade and movement can now be better facilitated directly and in six hours, rather than having to travel around Africa connecting multiple flights. We look forward to giving this convenience and comfort even at a greater height.
“Six years ago when we started, we promised Nigerians that we were not only going to connect cities in Nigeria but would connect the country with the rest of the world. And gradually, we are getting there.”
He added though the route is largely vacant with the redundancy of SAA, Air Peace recognises that there would be other interested competitors on the route, “but our pragmatic strategy and business plan will help us sustain the tempo.”
“We have been following our business plan since 2014 meticulously. Everything we said we would do then, by the grace of God, we have been able to achieve. We believe that we can do more with strategic planning. So, the era of saying that Nigerian airlines are pushover is gone forever. All we need is the enabling environment to perform and I assure you that we will perform far more than your expectations,” Onyema said.
Air Peace had earlier demonstrated its capacity on the South African route when it repatriated over 600 Nigerians for free, during the 2019 xenophobic crisis.
The commercial flight, which departed Lagos at 2 a.m. Thursday, had a fairly large turnout of passengers. It arrived at the OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, at 8:30 am to the traditional water salute.
The chief operating officer of the airline, Toyin Olajide, said the plan was to have daily flights on the route, but beginning with the current schedule of twice-weekly flights — Thursdays and Sundays.
Olajide on arrival in South Africa described the operation as a huge achievement for the airline and Nigeria as a whole, especially at these difficult times.
“It is not just Air Peace coming to South Africa, but our airline uniting the two countries, deepening trade relations and creating new jobs. To do this, Air Peace needed more manpower both in Nigeria and South Africa. Those are new jobs that we have just created. The more we expand, the greater the opportunities for service providers.
“So, coming to South Africa is a big development in the right direction. South Africans can see Nigerian indigenous carriers bring much love to them, as nationals travel both ways. That can only mean more unity between the two countries,” Olajide said.