A new airline, JetWest, is set to take off in December flying on local routes in the country. Founder of the airline, Dikko Nwachukwu, said the new airline is aimed at making air travel accessible to more people. And if all goes according to plan, JetWest will launch this year with 100 employees and a fleet of three AC-20 jets.
Nwachukwu, a serial entrepreneur with a background in aviation, sees opportunity in the vast market unserved by existing eight airlines. Just 15.2 million passengers passed through Nigerian airports in 2016, according to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority’s (NCAA) statistics, is about eight per cent of the population.
Nwachukwu said: “We want to do for travel what cell phones did for telecoms. Fifteen years ago, there were less than one million phone lines in Nigeria and now there are 100 million. We could have 100 million (air) travellers, and I know JetWest will be in the middle of the revolution,” he said.
The Guardian gathered that the new airline aims to project a fresh and vibrant image. The company’s social media accounts are already trailing colourful cocktails and memes ahead of launch, aimed at youthful, savvy consumers.
The founder added that consumers would be attracted to the airline’s core selling point: value. “JetWest will offer a pared-down service ‘more Easyjet than Etihad’ at rock-bottom prices.
“We will cut out everything not core to the business and focus on getting fliers from A to B. Beyond that, we will have unbundled services so customers can pick and choose what they want.”
Given the high cost and risk involved with launching a fleet in Nigeria’s current economic climate, the entrepreneur is mindful of the need to find efficiencies. He suggests the company might pool resources with other airlines.
More ambitiously, the business model will rely on innovation. JetWest is developing its own proprietary technologies in-house, drawing on the best talent from Nigeria’s renowned start-up scene, in a conscious effort to boost local industry as well to avoid costly rental equipment. The company intends to eventually supply technology to other airlines.
The three plane fleet could expand to 15 planes within three years, and 40 within five, carrying over 10 million passengers a year. The company hopes this will cover neighbouring countries in the region.
But not all analysts are convinced that such a smooth ascent will materialise. Vice president at industry analysts’ CH-Aviation, Ivan Nadalet, said: “Nigeria looks like a low-cost operator’s dream with massive population density. But Nigeria is a very difficult operating environment. The economy has collapsed and there is no foreign exchange, so it is very difficult to get revenue out of the country for leases.”
Nadalet added that JetWest might struggle to secure access to the airspace of neighbouring countries, where governments might fear competition that undercuts their own fleets.
Nigerian aviation has struggled in recent years, with leading carrier Arik Air subject to a government takeover to prevent its collapse.