“We are starting small but we have a big ambition”…DMD 7 Star Group


Air Commodore Simon Okwuokei (retd), GMD, 7 star global Group

Air Commodore Simon Okwuokei (retd), is the Deputy Managing Director 7 Star Global Group. He is an aircraft engineer, retired from the Nigeria Airforce and before his retirement, he served in many places, including as the chief engineer in the presidential air fleet and has undergone many trainings in aviation security and safety at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In this interview, he speaks on the activities of the airline

7 STAR airline was granted AOC late last year for Helicopters operations. What is the position now? 

The NCAA regulation for the grant of the Air Operators Certificate is not an overnight procedure, it is a tedious procedure that has application and all types of manner and of audits to be sure that the applicants have exactly what is required to be granted license to operate as an airline. So, we’ve passed through all stages and we’re successful at the end, and we’re granted air operators certificates late last year. Our intention is to operate helicopters for small chatters and offshore operations and that again has its own process, because some clients would want to carry out their own audits and certification different from that of the NCAA, although they are in line but they want to be very sure that the service provider is ready then. So, we are still the process with our clients so that when we start we can have a smooth operation without any hitches. So, in a nutshell we’re still in the process, putting our house together, arranging for the platforms, some here are serviceable and you know we cannot just start with one helicopter. Our plan is to have at least three or four helicopters, so we’re looking forward to coming on board very soon and maybe you have a client or two that you want to be involved here, because that is why we’re here in this business.

How many helicopters does 7 STAR have for now and when is the airline operation starting?.

Right now we have 2 airplanes here, one is serviceable and one is awaiting some spares to be serviceable. I know it is good to have at least two serviceable airplanes, so they don’t go for a mission and one has an issue then you are not able to rescue either the crew or the clients. So, we want to start and start correctly.We are starting small but we have a big ambition. 

Is the AOC mainly for Helicopters or does it cover any other aspect of airline operations apart from helicopters? 

For now, we have one 39 helicopters in our auspec but our intention is to grow it up to something bigger than that because our target client right now are the oil industries and small charters that go to not too busy airfields. So, we are looking at bringing in some fixed wing airplanes for all these shuttles to add to the helicopters. Most of these oil fields have airfields that can take turbo prop engines like Beach craft or 228 or all those categories that can land in such airfields. So, we have all those in our plans. 

Apart from chartered operations do you look forward to schedule operations? 

In future, yes. But for now, were into chatters and offshore operations.

How do you see the airline business in Nigeria today especially with the high cost of operations eg with spare parts acquisitions, forex among others? 

Talking of the Nigerian environment it’s a bit challenging reason being that the airline business is heavily dependent on Forex. If your buying to pay for spares, to pay for consumables to acquire, to pay for maintenance, to pay for nearly everything they are mostly dollarised and if it’s Europe, sometimes you pay in Euros and all that.So to that extent and the extent that you are having forest issues as a country.We have a challenge, I’m sure you’re aware of the challenges at international big time operators like Emirates Air and others have with getting their money back, it is because of the scarcity of Forex in our economy. So, it’s not about us , it affects the entire Aviation industry. Some airlines operate for few weeks or months and they get challenges, so they stay on ground for quite sometime, the reason is just that they don’t want to work, they need spares, they may have the money in Naira but to get it to Dollar (the acceptable means of transaction) if its not there you cannot put a faulty airplane into the air because as the saying goes, there is no parking space in the air. So, we have to work with what we have in our country praying that soon, the financial situation or the current situation of the country will improve to make us operate as we desire.

Your assessment of the industry in Nigeria in the past seven years of this administration? 

The aviation sector is a very large sector perse, you have the operation sites, you have the maintenance side and a lot of other sides, the Accident Investigation (AIB) and others. So, it is large in the Aviation Sector.I could specifically concentrate on operation and maintenance because those two work together. So, if you look at our operation, you’ll agree with me that it has grown tremendously and Africa remains the largest factor for now, probably apart from India or China, and if you say Africa, everyone knows who we’re talking about. We are talking of Nigeria with a population of over 200 million people, so if as we are now we have airlines with almost 60 or 70 serviceable airplanes operating, I don’t think that it is excess because, Nigerians are very industrious people. We have over 20 airports in this country that are available for operation. So, we have the customers or the clients for operation to have a very profitable or lucrative air in Nigeria, we have it. However, we have challenges, those challenge comes back. The security situation of our country has moved almost everybody to fly. So, there is a higher demand now for air services than it was 7 years ago.Nobody would like to sacrifice any of his or her family members going by road, because whatever amount they charge you to fly, that’s why most people don’t complain when they hear that air tickets have gone up. It can never be as high as what you pay as ransom when they kidnap a family member. Yes, it’s an industry that is growing and will continue to grow, if and when we secure this country sufficiently for people to travel by road or by rail then you’ll see, choices will come in. If you want to travel by rail or by road, then you know all kind of pressure they get, the airlines too are under intense pressure because they have a lot of passengers to carry and the support services as far as spares are concerned, are not easy for them, so it requires support like bail outs. They need bail outs from government. They need certain soft landing from government, for somebody to put in so much in an airline, he needs encouragement to sustain that business, otherwise a lot of them would run out of business.

Which areas do you think the incoming administration should focus on? 

Aviation, tourism and hotels are a bit close, there are so many types of tourism. I was recently in India, where India paid for 470 long haul aircraft,  220 from Airbus and 250 from Boeing and you know the population of India. if this government can do what India did, by supporting their people, giving them the kind of support that will make the business environment very conducive and competitive, you will see that the industry will grow. You see our neighbouring countries in West Africa, we don’t have to compare ourselves with them because they are not bases, this country, Nigeria is to be compared with others like Malaysia, India because the manpower resources we have here, the intellectuals and others in every aspect of the Aviation business are enough here Aviation wise. Nigerians have a larger population than several other countries, so if we have enough aircraft going from Nigeria to Europe and others I don’t think that we would complain of Forex, unemployment or brain drain because, alot of people would love to come to Nigeria because there are many things in Nigeria. If you are an industrialist you would want to source your market and you want to come, but you’ll prefer to travel to Nigeria by Air not sea. So, the potential of Aviation in Nigeria is so huge.But because it’s left for individuals or small groups to pursue the type of capitalism following is marking it very difficult. Why is Ethiopia doing very well , because they are being support by their government, she is Number one in Africa today, Because it’s bringing so much to the country. As the government is giving it maximum support, but if you leave the Aviation industry to any other type of thing in Nigeria where people care for themselves everybody is going to do it at a high cost, but if the basic infrastructure, basic facilities and others that are required to run it is there and people are being encouraged, small people can put their resources in an aviation and come out big and they fly the flag of this country.Nigerian Air will become a big pride and asset to this country, but I know at the airport you see  Delta Land, Etihad and others coming from the same country. 

Don’t you think Nigeria air will address these problems you mentioned and help to grow the industry and harness the potential? 

Nigerian Air operating allover will be a big pride and asset to this country. In this airport, you see all aircraft land. If we have Nigeria air operating and flying all over and we have Airpeace , Arik and 7 Star, all going out and other airlines coming to Nigeria, Nigerians are getting jobs and you see Nigerian flags on these airplanes, so the more people representing this country, the happier for this country. If everyone does Nigerian flags and you are not properly equipped or positioned, you may end up having epileptic or a poorly sustainable business and if your operation is unreliable clients will be hesitant before patronizing you but if you know that while we make reservations and it’s time to take off and the airplane is there you will not be worried to travel when you book Nigerian Air or others. We desire to have  Nigerian Air, to have it big because we have enough people in this country to patronize various airlines, so we also need to support other airlines that are doing so much for this country, they need support, because if we have service from Nigeria you can even be operating outside this country within the region.

Operating outside the country, the airline operators have said that the government is not giving them the support to be able to fly to other countries. In what area should government come in? 

Government has a very big role to make the environment very conducive for operators there are many ways they can do it, even most of the taxes they are doing here some of them are trade curtains, you can give them certain tax holiday, you can support them to get loans and guarantee loans from the global finance organization and then here you’ll be a guarantor. If you can guarantee three solid airlines as a national government to give them support, it will bring less burden to them and they will operate more comfortably knowing that if it falls government will support. So those vendors will not be afraid in giving you the necessary support that you deserve to give a fantastic service to you clients.

Do you support code share by airlines. Many airlines do not want to come together to code share and break even in the international world? 

I support codes hare. Why do you have 5star alliance and others.There was a day I made a journey from UK to Greece, there was a little delay and they know how to sort themselves out. They are there to make passengers comfortable so that they won’t suffer for a small challenge in your system, you can even shift entire passengers to two airlines that are going to the same destination and stop the pains that passengers go through. If our airlines can have that understanding it’s just for them to have the MoU, it can happen to anybody, challenges will happen challenges can come to any airline. But when the others are there to support you, you get your money from them, that’s the way to go, we need to support one another to go, then we get big things together.

Maintenance of aircraft is expensive  and it’s really affecting the finances of airlines in the country. What is your take on maintenance? 

We maintain airplanes for operators, that is our former business, we are the largest MRO around because of the capacity we have here. The engineers here are men with 30 to 40 years of experience, men that have grown to be directors of maintenance when Nigeria Airways was Nigerian Airways, that have worked in so many airlinesSo you have the capacity here, we just had a three C-checks for Dana Air that we completed last year and they are now operating. We the facilities and we have the manpower, we have hangers to use. For D-check, it involves a lot of overhaul but for C – check we are doing it already HERE, we’ve done it to Dana Air, we did PDM for presidential airplane for presidency and we’re working for other people here. So, we have capacity, manpower, tools and others. We move our airplanes to hangers that are available, we have MOU to make sure people save money because that money from airlines, the brakes that are being serviced, if you know the weight of breaks like 150kg. So if you have to take it out of this country, what you’ll pay to for it will be more than enough for maintenance.

What is the level of patronage from operators? 

We are getting patronage from our operators gradually, the airline, maintenance business is stage by stage. When we started, we had about 18 airplane types when we started, so as we see people problem we are recruiting engineers and technicians that will meet their desire and as we are doing it we are also working on the NCAA the regulator authority to auditors and see that we have the capacity, man power, tools and others, for each one they approve our personal and facility will pick the airplane but we can’t pick any airplane if NCAA doesn’t authorize us to work on it. As speak now, we are getting allover, locally and internationally to meet up to targeted jobs were expecting, there are airlines already talking with us, we are maintaining the airplanes and we are doing well already and we tend to go further than this.

What is your relationship with NCAA? 

We have a good relationship with the NCAA. We are like a family, whether with the airforce or you work in the civil , we cannot do without the NCAA, so we have a perfect relationship with them. For Maintenance if we can have capacity and manpower and tools sometimes spares might be the issue because there are some manufacturers that are not willing to let go, they want to do the maintenance of the airplane because when you come they can exploit you sufficiently. We are looking for how to have airports for spares, we are trying to talk to the manufacturers because they have airports for their various components and spares, we have that partnership, because we have several airplanes here, if you want these airplanes flying then supply them spares. We are not taking them for free, airlines will get it and pay for it. Abroad, you cannot just buy a car same as aircraft there is an arrangement when you have exchange, it is just like buying a new one to see the MRO have access to spares but we still pay customs for clearing out spares


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