Monday, June 16, 2008

Keeping my virginity

I READ Mr. Dele Olojede's article, "Losing my virginity" (The Guardian, June 12, 2008) with deep consternation. He "cut Virgin Nigeria no slack" as they would say in his country of residence - the United States. I was going to let this pass, when it occurred to me, that having been away from the country, it is important to bring him up to speed on the happenings within one of the key sectors in Nigeria - Aviation.

Prior to the arrival of Virgin Nigeria, if he may recollect, the sector was full of more than a few dysfunctional operators and with even more concerning regulatory bodies. The bane as we were told then by various media reports was shortchanging in aircraft maintenance and standards. Naturally, this brought Nigeria, the usual negative publicity internationally. In fairness, four air incidents in two years would bring any country negative publicity.

In came Virgin Nigeria, in time for when the riot act was being read to the sector. To many of us resident in Nigeria, it was a sigh of relief as we no longer had to travel by road, or go to the UK to board a British Airways flight to go to Abuja! Virgin Nigeria brought with them 22 years pedigree from an airline with not one single air incident. They also brought with them technical expertise in terms of engineers and pilots. These you will agree had hitherto been missing in the aviation sector.

The regulatory bodies having been rejuvenated themselves and led by the NCAA began work as it should be doing - regulating airlines to the highest standards possible. If you have followed the sector, you may have noticed that Virgin Nigeria emerged the first airline in Nigeria (and West Africa) to become IOSA certified. IOSA is the IATA organisational safety audit, which is the highest safety audit in the world. I am sure Mr. Olojede had a harrowing experience, which having read through, does not border on safety.

Air safety according to is a term encompassing the theory, investigation and categorisation of flight failures, and the prevention of such failures through regulation, as well as through education and training. As a frequent flyer, I have had great experiences with the Airline, from being given advance notice through a phone call or text messages when there is a delay, I have enjoyed great national and continental cuisine. This has naturally made them my first choice for travel. The airline is only three years old, and constantly being compared to airlines that have been up and running for many years. Even at just three years old, I believe Virgin Nigeria has done considerably well. How does a mosquito bite 'on his left leg' as well as (sadly) being given a seat less than he paid for amount to 'safety issues'?

Being a savvy traveller, I personally have little patience for poor customer service in whatever form, but I have flown enough to know that Virgin Nigeria is easily comparable to the airlines I have flown outside Nigeria, be it American airlines, where I have to pay my huge air fare and pay also for a cup of water, or British Airways who lost a million bags including mine with no apologies at Terminal five a few months back.....I have had issues with Virgin Nigeria myself and have seen great service recovery in action. I wonder if Mr. Olojede bothered to report the incident to the airline or given his status, addressing it in the media seemed faster?

Interestingly a writer from the blog site where his write up was posted had responded to Mr. Olojede saying "Virgin has demonstrated time and time again their commitment to Safety first and World Class standards. They would rather lose face with a customer and make sure the aircraft is fit for flying than put a technically suspect aircraft in the air"

Mr. Olojede is angry which is understandable, but that is no excuse to belittle the efforts of all the people at Virgin Nigeria.

Apart from running my own business in Nigeria, I have travelled enough also to imagine the challenges of running an airline, albeit in Nigeria dispatching flights to regional, domestic and international destinations in one breath. Being an award-winning writer, a bit of theatre is occasionally permitted in writing, but safety is much too sensitive a word to play around with...Mr. Olojede's made his article available on a blog site, making it accessible to the world, and adding just another negative publicity on the nation's lap.

One would have thought, given his person and status, practising a bit more of responsible journalism would have been required? This may have required calling the airline, hearing their bit and reaching for his pen should their response be unsatisfactory? Perhaps he could have put his pen behind a more positive image laundering for the country? Like celebrating the fact that Virgin Nigeria's investment in people, has not only produced lots of Nigerian pilots including another eight recently sent to on a cadetship programme in the USA. All this is in the face of a global dearth of pilots. These pilots are being given one of the best pilot trainings in order to serve not just the airline, but the nation as a whole.

As I say to my friends and colleagues during discussions, Nigeria will only turn around and be great when you and I make the effort at being responsible in our different areas, I believe only then can we take the next step?....which for me, is having the innate and unrepentant pride like citizens of the USA... the kind that makes the USA believe they are the super nation of the world... after all, we too, are the giant of Africa