Flew 1.65 million passengers, carried 20, 000 tonnes of cargo in 15 years
The Nigeria-United States route was never seen to be one that excited US carriers. For many years, they were contented with the huge market the US provided for its teeming airlines.
For many years, Africa never featured in their programmes. Where they did, they only offered limited air services. They left the market to European airlines which fed fat on the route.
A glimpse of how lucrative the route could be was exposed by the audacity of a Nigerian, Dr. Peter Obafemi with his Ritetime Aviation & Travel Services, operators of World Airways that provided direct flights from Nigeria to Atlanta in early 2000.
Obafemi hit a goldmine when former Minister of Aviation under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr. Kemi Chikwe did everything she could do to ensure the start of a direct flight to the US from Nigeria. A few weeks after flight services to the US were restored, the airline hit a brick wall and that led to the collapse of what was supposed to be a very great chapter for the country’s aviation industry.
In 2007, the world’s biggest airline by revenue, assets, and market capitalization, Delta Airlines commenced flight operations to Nigeria. The carrier has operated on the route for 15 years and waxing stronger.
Speaking to Aviation Metric in Lagos on Monday on the occasion to mark Delta Airlines 15 years of non-stop service to Nigeria, the carrier’s Sales Director for Africa, Middle East, and India, Mr. Jimmy Eichelgruen admitted that, “We only collect in the US dollars airfares out of Nigeria. That allows us to still operate as we have done for 15 years. So, we collect in dollars. If we issue a ticket in Nigeria, it is going to be paid for in US dollars”.
Delta Air Lines
Going down memory lane, Eichelgruen said, “I remember 15 years ago when we started our service and we have served Nigeria for 15 years and it has been wonderful; you see results and that is the important thing. The US is the biggest trading partner with Nigeria. Things are happening. Over the years, we have done really a good job; with our operations here, the in-flight service, and meals that cater to the passenger in Nigeria and West Africa. I think it is important. Our operation in Nigeria is run by Nigerians, for Nigerians as headed by a Nigerian. We know the market. That has been the journey that we have been on. It has been exciting”.
He stated that the carrier had shown serious commitment to the Nigerian market because they wanted to serve properly, highlighting how important the market had been very important to the carrier by restarting operations in Nigeria first even before considering Europe.
“The bottom line is that when we started, we told Nigerian travelers that we are going to serve this market. We have kept our promises for 15 years. That is simple as that and also we have success because there is a huge corporate business of oil and gas, visits of friends and relatives. There is a great relationship between Nigeria and the USA. We have done well and we want to continue to serve the Nigerian people”.
He expressed joy at the very high load factors, as the airline’s airplanes are filled up, particularly with flights from Lagos to Atlanta, stressing that Atlanta is a strong point for Nigerians with a huge Nigerian community in Atlanta which makes everybody recognise that there is a huge strong point of what Atlanta is to the rest of the USA.
“We serve 200 cities from Lagos. That is a really strong year-round success of the service. The flight to JFK is more of a seasonal type of service and you know that you have got your peak season. It has been extremely good.”
The airline had flown an impressive 1.65 million passengers in 15 years on the Nigerian route which Eichelgruen admitted is an incredible number.
“We talked about trade. Cargo is part of this trade. 20, 000 tonnes of cargo we have shipped on this route. That tells you valuable airline Delta is flying between Lagos and the USA. The US is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria. The trade in 2019 stood at $3.2 billion. Nigeria is the second largest US export destination, in sub-Saharan Africa. It is the second-largest US export destination. In 2019, trade between the two countries totaled more than $10 billion”.
“We got a joint venture with Air France, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic. In addition to that, got a codeshare agreement with Kenya Airways which is an African airline and that has proven to be successful for us and also success for Kenya Airways because we got quite a lot of codeshares within Africa and that works for us. Delta is always looking for codeshare opportunities for an additional footprint in Africa. Of course, we also decide on what Delta wants to do back fully with the US FAA regulations and requirements while doing that. We have got a lot of traffic from Lagos from the point of origin to the USA and in the same way from the USA to Lagos. The flights do very well as it is. We always look for opportunities as they occur”, he said.
The airline chief said his carrier was investing very heavily in in-flight products in general and in technology including a state-of-the-art A330 it currently operates in Nigeria
“Technology is another big issue which we are investing in the product if you take Nigeria where we are operating A330 which is one of the state-of-the-art aircraft. It has got 223 seats. The various things we are doing to improve the product that is what we did.
“Sustainability is a big issue not only in Nigeria for Delta Airlines. We are doing a lot of research, a lot of work clearly with our partners on Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), the technology that drives our business, the way we handle our reservations, a lot of behind the scene team thing, the operations at airports. We have invested a huge amount of money to make the customer experience better. Delta operates 4000 flights a day. It is a huge operation. We always want to be at the forefront of offering the best and it costs money”, he added.