Busy Izy Air
Liz Moscrop looks at the ambitious new addition to Lagos' charter market.
Entrepreneur Alex Izinyon has a lot on his plate – willingly so. “I want to leave a strong legacy for my children,” he explained.
Part of that desire led him to receiving the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority air operator’s certificate (AOC) for his private charter firm, Izy Air, in January this year.
In addition to executive charter, the company also offers aircraft sales, purchases and management services from its two bases in Lagos and Abuja.
Izy Air manages a fleet of aircraft, including a Hawker 800/900XP, a Cessna Citation XLS, a Bombardier Learjet 60 and a Bombardier Challenger 601.
Izinyon has strong ambitions for the company, believing private aviation is growing in Nigeria. This requires government input, he said. “We need a five-year business plan for parallel markets. Buyers see the potential there. We can secure the commitment and build on it once the project is there and the government buys in.”
He cited the example of Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, who owns a Bombardier Learjet 35. Dangote has openly said he intends to lead a $7 billion investment in Nigeria’s infrastructure development over the next four years.
He has made his fortune in cement, via his company Dangote Cement, which listed on the Nigerian stock exchange in 2010. Izinyon explained: “Dangote Cement went into Obajana. There was no airport for flying in there. He didn’t wait for the government. It now has an airstrip. People have to open their minds to see the business prospects in this land of abundance and go in aggressively.”
Despite his optimism for the industry, there are many hurdles to overcome. It is frustrating, for example, to have to fly out of the country for base inspections. There are no maintenance facilities in Nigeria that can carry out heavy maintenance checks. There are also high taxes on importing parts and equipment.
He said: “How can you carry maintenance that huge if bringing in kit is expensive? I can be in Cyprus in four hours and get work done there.”
To that end, he said that Izy Air is likely to open its own MRO facility in the country at some point in the future, when he is able to secure the investment and partners. “Line maintenance doesn’t cut it. What we’re looking for we need to build. We can team up with others, but with what is required to get to where we need to be it’s not happening.”
He is already employing Nigerian engineers and sending them to work with expatriates.
Another challenge is the lack of hangarage in the country. Some Nigerian operators have been known to fly 300 hours without shelter against the harsh climate, which causes outside entities to add extra money to their proposals for work.
One US maintenance organisation suggested that it automatically added 35% to any proposals it offers to Nigerian companies, because of their aircraft age and the likelihood of corrosion.
However, an in house MRO facility is some way off.
It has been a tough time for Nigeria. Many budding corporate jet owners had to cancel their orders because of the slump in oil prices. Several lost their aircraft as they could not keep up with payments.
That is not all bad news, said Izinyon, since it has weeded out some undesirables as the newish parliament is determined to stamp out corruption. “People are now selling jets that were favourably disposed to the previous government. They had access to lots of money to fund their aircraft, and can no longer maintain running these assets, so they put them on the market – it has made a difference.”
New owners have nothing to hide, he added. “It’s different from before. People know what the law is.”
Another plus, is that US banks are now more willing to deal with Nigerians, so ultimately this will prove beneficial, he believes.
For the time being, however, demand has dropped from 50 hours a month to 25 hours a month. Since margins are so tight, Izinyon is not taking on any new investment projects.
He said: “Now is the time to get creative and get positioned for when things pick up again.”