HomeHajj2023 Hajj Airlift: A Star in Aero-contractors Airline

2023 Hajj Airlift: A Star in Aero-contractors Airline

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By Abdulfattah Abdussalam

..Ceteris Paribus, it is expected to repeat and surpass its outstanding performances in the 1445 AH Hajj Airlift. We also hope if it continues to do well with others, the hitches Nigeria experiences in Hajj Airlifting might be a thing of the past..

The import of this write-up is to re-visit the Hajj Airlifts of 1444 hjirah year and salute the finest operational deft contrive of one of the air carriers contracted by Nigeria for the airlifting of Nigeria’s 95 thousand pilgrims to the last pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. We may recall that the then Management of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) initially licensed seven airlines for the epoch-making Hajj operation. Because it was the first time in the recent history of Hajj operations that Nigeria had that number of pilgrims. And for a country without a national carrier, flying these guests of Allah to Saudi Arabia could be a herculean task and an albatross.

The licensed seven airlines announced by NAHCON) for both passenger and cargo services included: FLYNAS, a Saudi Arabia Airline (with home advantage), MAX and AZMAN Airlines (two known operators in Hajj airlifts), AIRPEACE and AERO CONTRACTORS, (two new entrants), ARIK AIR and VALUE JET Airlines (designated for Private Tour operators). At the commencement of the airlifting, these airlines ended with only six in operation. Value-Jet posted a no-show for a reason best known to the parties involved in the transaction.

De facto, the no-show invariably put pressure on the Arik and was overwhelmed by the 20000 pilgrims it had to fly for the private tour operators.. On the two-legged trips out-bound and in-bounds, Arik Airline faltered and caused discomfort to the pilgrims. Additionally, in the outwards, one of the airlines suffered a documentation hitch; consequently, it lost two weeks of activities, which distorted flight Schedules. In another vein, an airline deployed low-capacity-bodied planes for an operation that needed Jumbo aircraft to beat the deadlines. Aside from these operational challenges, the Airline operators selected for the 2023 Hajj in Saudi Arabia, at point had to reroute their routes away from the designated routes the Sudan, Airspace, over the conflicts in Sudan that led to longer flying hours, thus shorter days to beat the deadline. A botched hajj loomed.

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Hajj is the 5th pillar of Islam; it is the wishes of every Muslim to perform pilgrimage at least once in a life-time. Although it is recommended to be done once in a life time, many wish to do it as much times as they have the money and health. All over the world it elicits brazen emotions. People save towards it for years and many work extra to raise the amount required for the pilgrimage. In Nigeria, because of our large population, and perhaps for our idiosyncrasies, Hajj is sensitive in operation, execution and delivery. A botched Hajj is not a welcome feat. A failure to take a pilgrim who has paid fully for the pilgrimage can have damming consequences for the pilgrims and the officials. In the past there were reports of sudden deaths for pilgrims that failed to be on pilgrimage, physical assault on officials who pilgrims perceived as hindrances to their aspirations to be in Makkah and Madinah and ill -health as a result of failed Hajj trips.

Its success or otherwise centred on five key areas: intention and actual payment of fares by pilgrims, processing and procurement of valid visas, provision of suitable accommodations for the pilgrims, provision of local transportation and feeding for the pilgrims and the ultimate one, the Airlifting of the guests of Allah to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, before the closure of the landing Airports by the Hajj Authorities of Saudi Arabia. In these areas, especially for Nigerians, airlifting of pilgrims to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage in the past has been an issue with consequences that many have yet to overcome.

In the year preceding the 1444AH, pathetically, some Nigerian pilgrims could not make the pilgrimage due to inadequate aircraft and lateness in visa procurement. Perhaps this was why the then management of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) contracted seven airlines for the last Hajj exercise airlift. Even then, if not for the competence of Aero Contractors Airline, it could have been another sad history of Hajj Airlifting for the pilgrims and officials. In 2022, one thousand five hundred and one (1,551) intended pilgrims missed the pilgrimage because of flight delays to Saudi Arabia. The affected intending pilgrims included nine from Bauchi state, 91 from Plateau state, 700 from Kano state and an estimated 750 from the private tour operators sector. They were stranded at the airports in Kano, Abuja and Lagos. The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria apologized for it.

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The involvement of Aero-contactors Airline in airlifting for the 2023 Hajj exercise was because of the resolve by the professionals behind its operations to prevent avoidable Hajj airlifting hitches. One of the men(some retired staff, but not tired veterans of NAHCON) behind its operation told the PEACE Magazine, “we ventured into that sector of Hajj operations to contribute our quota so that we would not be having the usual problems that we do have when it is time to airlift Nigerian pilgrims for pilgrimage”.

Incredibly, that decision was a move that was regarded by like minds in Hajj corridors as phenomenal that transformed Aero Contractors Airline as the Star of 1444 AH (2023) Hajj operations. The airline posted world-class performances to the delight of the pilgrims, officials and average watchers of Hajj operations.

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Machines do not function without input from man. Aero Contractors airline fielded men with wealth of on-the-field experience in Hajj operations when the company availed its platforms to these men of courage that positioned Aero Contractors for the 2023 Hajj airlift business. With its Boeing 747 aircraft, it concluded airlift of its allotted portion of passengers in record time and became the toast, star and revelation of 2023 Hajj operations. From an initial allocation of 7,266 pilgrims, Aero Contractors Airline was later directed by the then Management of NAHCON to expand its routes on rescue missions to avert the pending doom of botched Hajj. The airline ended the outbound flights, flying 11,676 pilgrims from six states for the Hajj outbound operations. No doubt this feat is unprecedented and was a boost to the 2023 Hajj airlift. The inbound trips were efficacious in fulfillment of the airline’s assurances to Nigeria and Saudi Arabia Hajj Authorities that it can give one of the best workable formulas in Hajj aviation symbiosis, notwithstanding being a first-timer. It played a significant role in the timely movement of pilgrims back home. The hands deployed by Aero Contractors for the operations applied uncommon operational manuals in the outbound and in-bounds.

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Hajj Airlift operation is a distinct school on its own because it is a field that demands practical experience to grasp its complexity. The expertise and experience in the field accord the experienced manager the eagle eye that identifies an advantage or solution when the usual glitch rears its ugly head. Although, Aero Contractors Airline got the least allocation from the 2023 Hajj airlift slots for fear it may stutter, but by the time it completed the outbound operations, it left no one in doubt of its capacity. The inbounds operation was like the icing on the cake for its performance in an industry where even a long-timer can be a Slouch of the season. The airline displayed the can-do spirit of Nigerians and exploited Hajj 1444 window to tell the world that Nigerian spirits can always rise to the occasion.

The Airline was an indelible discovery during the last Hajj operations. One can only hope the 1445 AH Hajj will be another avenue for it to consolidate its success. It exhibited an alliance of skills, willpower, focus, foresight and deployed an unwavering army of intelligent foot soldiers as workers for the last operations. God willing and Ceteris Paribus, it is expected to repeat and surpass its outstanding performances in the 1445 AH Hajj Airlift. We also hope if it continues to do well with others, the hitches Nigeria experiences in Hajj Airlifting might be a thing of the past.

Of course, we know it has to go through new screening and revalidation of its licenses and operational mode for the 2024 Hajj operations, but if its performances in the last operations are valued, it should have a substantial allocation this time around, including a sizeable number from private tour operators, who suffered frustrating moments in the last Hajj operations. Sui generis, it has to be commended and encouraged to dash even further in the forthcoming Hajj operations and becomes a face of Nigeria’s resilience in Hajj Airlifting. And for the sake of thousands of pilgrims, who trustingly shall commit their earnings to travel for the next Hajj, the Airline expertise and experience should be reckoned with by NAHCON to the fullest for the good of all.

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