Abisola OwolawiBy Abisola Owolawi|October 26, 2022|12 Minutes|In Billionaire Today

Billionaire Today

Billions in the air

There are billions in the air over Africa. More and more millionaire entrepreneurs have less and less time to spare as they dash across the continent. This is giving rise to a boom in private jets for VIP travel in style a world away from the check-in counter.

The lucrative private jet business aviation industry is soaring high into the African skies.

There appears to be a boom in demand for quicker travel across the continent, far from check-in queues and baggage reclaim,  for Africa’s executives and entrepreneurs who have less and less time to waste. The boom was spurred on by the mainstream shut downs of the COVID 19 pandemic, in 2020, transforming a once small niche industry into an overnight sensation. The business has now surpassed pre-pandemic levels; key players in the large Nigerian market say there are still some existing knowledge gaps within the market.

“Appetite is informed by knowledge and so, I think that today, there is a misconception or poor knowledge about VIP travel”, says Siza Madiba, Chief Executive officer of Quits Aviation Nigeria.

The Quits Aviation terminal in Lagos, is a major hub for VIP aircraft travel in Africa. It a fixed based operations service, a maintenance and repair facility as well as a stable for charter operators.

“In Africa today, we have a total of about 474 VIP aircrafts of which Nigeria has a hundred and South Africa has about 170.If you compare that to the United States and Europe where there are 25,000 and 4,100 VIP aircrafts respectively, Africa only represents about 2% of worldwide VIP aircraft travel. It is not that there aren’t enough people who can afford it, it is because there isn’t enough awareness and information in the public to help realize just how turnkey this product is. From deciding when they want to travel, how they want to travel and through where they want to travel. So, that’s yet to be tapped,” says Madiba.

This Quits aviation ecosystem caters for organisations that have their own corporate aircrafts, high net individuals that own their own aircraft and business individuals that would like to charter.

The charter service has enjoyed just as much popularity and operators like ANAP Jets have on offer, a fractional ownership option for its clientele but not without a clear sensitization of its fleets’ performance

Atowari Peterside is Vice President, Sales and Marketing at the company. He addresses some of the existing misconceptions in the industry.

“There are many people who initially felt they had to own their own Jets and now realise they don’t have to do that. They know there are certain number of times they would like to fly and that there is an offering that allows them to fly just that amount of times. Although, at the same time, many people end up buying more fractions as the need to travel heightens but the great thing is that it can be tailored to your needs rather than having to sort out the maintenance, fueling, crewing and catering for their own aircrafts as we can take care of all that for you,” says Peterside.

“There is also the misconception, among many,  that the bigger the aircraft, the safer it is. This is something we are educating our clientele about as it isn’t true.”

One of the aircrafts Atowari refers to, is the Embraer Phenom 300E  7- seater which can get you directly from Lagos to Dakar within 3 hours 45 mins.

“Another main feature of this aircraft is that it only requires a short take -off and landing distance which means you can fly to certain airports that larger aircrafts can’t get into. Peterside says, as he shows the aircraft. You can fly directly from Lagos to Principe within 1 hour 15 minutes. You can also fly to private air fields that commercial aircrafts can’t get to.”

Accessibility to certain cross – country hinterlands is an entirely different proposition and a glaring market opportunity for the helicopter business.

“You can ask a private jet to take you to Owerri but that private jet will not be able to take you to Aba but we can do that”, says Captain Ibrahim Bello who is Managing Director at Nigeria’s Caverton helicopters which specializes in air logistics support services with most of its clientele in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, medivac services and VIP transport market.

As quality and safety are core tenets of this offering, the facility boasts the first and only state of the art AW 139 flight simulator which provides a fully immersive virtual environment representing operational locations. Pilots can also learn to handle an array of system failures and malfunctions should they arise.

Amid a rise in market appetite, operators within the industry face some key challenges- especially new entrants such as Bria Okonkwo who runs a full service premium booking platform for private aviation and luxury concierge services.

“Being a new entrant, it’s really good understanding the market and how we can bridge the gap between what we have currently in Africa against Europe. Generally, across Africa, business aviation is still at its infancy and in comparison, with our counterparts in Europe and America, we still have a long way to go,” says Okonkwo.

‘I think the greatest challenge we face in the industry as a whole, are the brokers.  As we don’t have a unified platform where the public can go and book for any jet of their choice, people rely on the network that they have and the brokers kind of pad up the prices on fares. We have however been able to mitigate this as a business by having a technology platform where bookings can be made directly. Payment is made on the app and we ensure that the jet is ready and waiting for you,” Okonkwo adds.

Players and stakeholders are not exempt from more bottlenecks

“The challenges posed today is that after we went into COVID, the number of aircrafts available for VIP travel reduced because COVID imposed a requirement for people to fly in less confined spaces as opposed to commercial. So, the demand for VIP travel rose significantly and so, today, the manufacturers are dealing with a situation where the demand for VIP aircrafts is very high and so, the prices have escalated. So, finding available aircrafts in the market is quite difficult today. Also owing to COVID, a lot of the aircraft component manufacturers have gone under and so, as a result of that, the market is seeing a huge problem with spare parts availability and that is having an impact on aircraft air-worthiness and serviceability. So, we are seeing more and more aircrafts having to be grounded”, Madiba adds

Another highlighted bottleneck is around operating and purchasing regulatory restrictions as many VIP aircraft owner operators appear to have some acquisition knowledge gaps. While access to forex is yet another

“All our parts and the major items we use are actually sourced from abroad and foreign exchange has been quite a challenge as we mostly have to go through the parallel market and this isn’t easy on us. Another issue is the customs clearance as we offer a bespoke service and It would be much easier if we can have the zero duty in the Nigeria Finance Act applied across board for operators, that would really be welcome and appreciated, says Bello

Maintenance is a core prerequisite for operational and reputational longevity in this industry – a service that both Quits Aviation and Caverton helicopters have.

Environmental and sustainability issues have also been at the forefront of the industry’s discourse.

In Europe alone, C0 2 emissions from private jets increased by 31% between 2005 and 2019, outpacing the growth in commercial jet emissions and industry executives say that sustainability is becoming a key priority for their businesses. Embraer, for instance has made a pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 while Vistajet aims for the same by 2050

Oleg Evdokimov is owner of FlyVIPClass and believes that jet operators should take more responsibility when it comes to sustainability

“The main problem of jet operators is that most people fly one-way and the aircraft returns empty. So, you pay double for fuel and that absolutely inefficient. So, the successful model for jet operations is not to return them. For example, it best to have an aircraft in the northern region, then another in perhaps Canary Island, another in Lagos or Abuja, another in Cape Town and perhaps another in Zanzibar. That way, you cover the whole map. So, no matter where the request comes from, there will always be an aircraft on ground and this will help avoid useless usage of fuel, “says Evdokimov.

For a more turn key business approach to its offerings, hospitality is another sub-product the industry is developing just like Quits Aviation’s hotel facility positioned right in the middle of the VIP aircraft terminal for the ease of travelers and crew members. Positioned just three  minutes from the  international terminal, five minutes from the domestic  terminal; the facility boasts its own immigration and customs desk.

As it continues to grow and expand its networks, Nigeria’s private aviation space promises to keep pushing the envelope and reaching greater heights.