Filed in Automobiles by on October 10, 2012

Why Branson pulled out of Nigerian aviation industry – Adebanjo
October 10, 2012 by Oyetunji Abioye

Chief John Adebanjo

Representative of Virgin Atlantic Airways in Nigeria, Chief John Adebanjo, offers insight into what led the British airline mogul, Sir Richard Branson, to pull out of the Nigeria’s aviation industry after establishing Virgin Nigeria in partnership with the Federal Government. He spoke to OYETUNJI ABIOYE.

What is your assessment of the Nigeria’s aviation sector?

In the aviation industry we have today, we have not scratched the surface yet. And if only the operators can cooperate with the minister we have now.  She is business-oriented. And I like the way she is operating in the sense that she is not listening to the noise going on around her; which means she is focused and she is getting results. There are many advisers around her and that has helped her a lot. She has surrounded herself with professionals. If only the operators can work with her, and we at Virgin Atlantic are willing to work with her. I am comfortable with her progress so far, and I pray she has more time to complete her project.

There have been many criticisms around her. Are there areas you think she needs to improve on?

For me, there is nobody that people will not criticise. You criticise your father the way he has done his things at times. The President the other day was complaining that he was the most criticised President in the world until he met with the Malawian President. Is she doing the right thing? Yes. Let her continue what she is doing that is right and we will back her up. And the most important thing is for her to have core people surround her that will give her unbiased advice. And I think once she can do that, she will succeed. Let us be fair, she has done more than any of her predecessors in the one year that she has been there. What many of the ministers were afraid to do, she has done it-taking the bull by the horn. Let us give her kudos for it.

What is your vision for Virgin Atlantic Airways in Nigeria?

At Virgin Atlantic, we are also growing; we are new; you cannot compare us with our contemporaries that have been around for almost 60 years. We are only 12 years old and we have carried more passengers than everybody else, which means we must have been doing something right. And thanks to the Nigerian people for patronising us, for giving us that edge. We can only hope that our services and the new products we are bringing in will continue to serve the country better than what we have done. We are continually striving and Virgin Atlantic is still open to investing in the country if we see the opportunity.

Virgin Nigeria Airlines has created some frictions between the Nigerian Government and Virgin Atlantic. Do you think Richard Branson will still be willing to invest in Nigeria?

Yes, we cannot rule anything out. We will study atmosphere and check whatever we are being offered. Yes, it was a bad experience and many people have criticised us. They do not know the fact. Virgin Atlantic has done more than any airline has done in that country to assist Nigeria. We have assisted FAAN; we have done many things to assist. It is on record there, it is not just boasting about it. But the way we have been attacked was not too good. Branson was hurt and unfortunately nobody was talking to us. Everybody thinks we have ripped Nigeria, which is not right.  Virgin Atlantic walked away with losses. Did people need to ask why we pulled out? Nobody is asking us that. People have been going to the press saying that we left $300m debt. No. You need to understand the role Virgin Atlantic played in Virgin Nigeria. You need to understand what happened. You need to understand whether we actually invested in that business? The records are there. People have accused us that we did not bring in any money. The records are there that we brought money in; we lost money in the deal just like any other shareholder. We probably lost more. This is contrary to what many have been made to believe that Virgin Atlantic was the bane of Virgin Nigeria. It is not. And that is what pained Richard Branson. What pained him was that nobody was engaging us in talks. It is painful when I’m punishing you for what you don’t know anything about. Just because I have been told that you caused it. What did I cause? Who told you? What happened? How did it happen?  Nobody is there. Nobody is asking us anything. And we were left in the court in the open dry land. We are still looking for investment opportunity and I am sure that we will look into it carefully and we will invest, if the opportunity arises.

Are you worried that Air Nigeria, the airline Branson left, has suspended operations?

It was painful when we read about it, knowing full well how much work we put into that airline; the structure we put on the ground. It is very painful. We brought in a brand, which has been successful round the whole world, successful anywhere we have found ourselves in; and successful in our results. So it is painful when we heard about it. And we still look at it that we will be more than happy to see that the airline is brought back alive. And it will come back by the grace of God, it will come back.

Virgin Atlantic recently employed Nigerian crew members now deployed on the Lagos-London route. What value will they add to your service on this route?

I am sure you are probably aware that we pride ourselves in this our crew members. We were the first airline to pioneer this. So this new Nigerian crew will really add value to our operations because they will understand the need of our some of customers better.

How would you compare the Nigerian crew members with those from Britain and other countries?

The policy is basically the same everywhere. We have local crew members in Nigeria, India and Japan. We are mindful of visa and employment issues. These Nigerian crew members will serve the Lagos-London route, but they could be posted to any part of the world.

Is Virgin Atlantic planning to increase its flight frequencies on the Nigerian route?

For now, we don’t have such plan. This is because there is a Bilateral Air Service Agreement between Nigeria and the UK. And there are limited landing slots. For now, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have exhausted those slots.

Virgin Atlantic, like BA, has just upgraded one of its premium cabins called Upper Class. When will you put this on the Nigerian route?

Well, it has just been introduced and it is being tested. Before the end of the first quarter of next year, it will be introduced on the Nigerian route. Whatever we do in Virgin, we do it in a big way so we are trying to ensure it is good.


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