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Onyema: Air Peace Was Born Out of Passion To Create Jobs, I Knew Nothing About Aviation 

Allen Onyema has hailed Fidelity Bank, revealing it backed Air Peace when no other bank was ready to take a chance.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Air Peace, Allen Onyema has revealed that before he started his airline company, he had no idea about the aviation industry, as he created the airline because he was passionate about creating jobs for Nigerians.

This was revealed in a recent documentary to celebrate Air Peace, detailing its history and proudly showcasing the airline’s recent achievements, including the commencement of daily flights from Lagos, Nigeria to Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom.

However, when Onyema decided to venture into the aviation industry, he knew next to nothing about airplanes or the aviation industry. “Before I came to Air Peace, I knew nothing about aviation,” Onyema admitted candidly.

However, his passion and determination to create jobs and leave a lasting impact on society fuelled his drive to thrive in the aviation sector.

Engr. Gbolahan Abatan, the CEO of AirFirst Maintenance, recalled vividly his first encounter with Onyema as well as his burning zeal. “When I met Allen, he had no clue about aviation,” Abatan says. However, it was Onyema’s unwavering passion for job creation that set him apart.

Abatan elaborated on Onyema’s motivation, saying, “Some people come into the business for different reasons. But his own was not about making money. He just wanted to do it to be able to employ people and then make an impact in society and leave a legacy”

“Air Peace was born out of the passion for job creation,” Onyema explained, noting that his interest for aviation was heightened by a revelation. “Someone told me that going into aviation, that one Boeing 737 jet could give jobs to 1,000 people and that wowed me,” Onyema said.

This newfound passion led Onyema to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority office, where he sought guidance on starting an airline. There, he was advised to consult with someone well-grounded in the industry, which led him to Abatan.

“The lady he met there just pointed out to him that ‘look, you can’t do this on your own, you need to meet somebody who is well-grounded in the industry,’ and she gave him my number,” Abatan recounts.

Onyema quickly enlisted Abatan as his consultant, and under Abatan’s mentorship, he began to learn the intricacies of aviation. “I got Engr. Gbolahan Abatan who is a seasoned aviator and aircraft engineer. He was the one that taught me everything I know in aviation,” Onyema says.

Abatan initially suggested a cautious approach, advising Onyema to start with a charter company to master the basics before expanding. “I told him, if you’re going to start, we will start with a charter company. That means we will get small aircraft that can take ten to twelve people,” Abatan explains. However, Onyema was determined to launch a full-fledged airline from the start. “He said, ‘no, with what you’ve told me, I think I know what to do and I want to go for it.’”

Onyema and Abatan then travelled across Europe and the United States, purchasing Onyema’s first jets. “We went to London, went to France, bought my first jet, a Dornier 328 jet. Then we went to Germany the same week and bought another Dornier 328 jet from the factory itself. 

“From there we went to the US and bought another Dornier 328 jet,” Onyema said. He was initially under the impression that these three jets would create 3,000 jobs, but he was met with a disappointing response. “I told Gbolahan, ‘so that means these three jets could give 3,000 jobs.’ Gbolahan said ‘no.’ He said, ‘who told you that?’ That was our first misunderstanding,” Onyema recalls.

“When I told him what this would do, he said ‘no no no. Let’s go straight. I want to do a full-blown airline where I will be able to employ thousands of people,’” Abatan explains. Despite Abatan’s warnings about the complexities and challenges, Onyema was resolute.

Onyema’s initial anger and disappointment gave way to a renewed determination. “I was angry. I said this was not what I thought. That defeated what I was planning. This is not what I want. This cannot create the jobs I’m looking for,” Onyema states.

However, through perseverance and with Abatan’s guidance, Onyema’s vision eventually materialised.

Meanwhile, Onyema encountered more challenges as it was proving difficult to obtain the Air Operators Certificate (AOC) for the Airline. It was at this point during is narration that Onyema then expressed gratitude to the then Acting Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Engineer Benedict Adeyileka, who was instrumental in helping Air Peace to acquire its AOC as he said, “Without Engineer Adeyileka, there might not have been an Air Peace today.”

Explaining the situation, Onyema said, “As at that time in 2014, our maintenance technical stores were brimming with parts to the tune of over N12 billion, yet I was not given AOC – Air Operators Certificate, that’s the license you need to start operating. So, one night, myself and my wife, we woke up and we said, what are we going to do? So, let’s shut down. I started crying. I wept that night.

“My manager then was Bunmi, so I called her in the night around 2 am. I said, prepare, call all the staff, send mails to every staff to report at the office tomorrow in the morning, that we will be shutting down Air Peace, they have not given us AOC, therefore, we have to close it down and go elsewhere. And the girl started crying. She said, sir please don’t do that. I said, what else do you want us to do?”

However, Onyema revealed he received a shock the next day as he said, “In the morning, by the time we got to the office, NCAA directors were in my office led by the acting Director General of NCAA, Engineer Benedict Adeyileka.

“When I came in that office, staff were all over the place. I went upstairs with swollen eyes after a night of crying. I sat down and he started swearing. Anybody that says that Air Peace will not get that AOC will die. That was the DG himself. He started querying his people – So what of this? How can you fault this? What is wrong with this?”

Adeyileka, giving his side of what happened that pushed him to ensure Air Peace’s license was given to them, said, “One night, I received a call from one of my colleagues, Mrs Julie, and she just told me that night that there is an issue that the airline which has not started is about to shut down, and that the chairman, Dr Allen Onyema, was trying to sack everybody that night so that they could move the operation out of the country. 

“I was aware that they had seven aircrafts ready to come in. So that very night, I made a phone call to all my Directors, and I said, 8 o’clock, we meet in the airline’s office.

“I looked into what happened, I wasn’t really happy about what I saw, and I got really emotional about it, and I now gave everybody a marching order that this AOC is going to happen, that was how they got their AOC.”

The Air Peace CEO also hailed Fidelity bank for their support and help in the financial aspect of the setup of the airline as he said, “Fidelity is an example of how things should be done. At the time they believed in Air Peace to invest in aircraft acquisitions, no bank in this country would have done that. But Fidelity trusted because they believe in creating wealth for the country.

“Fidelity has never come after me to harass me with sinking funds. Sinking funds means that at the end of every business, a particular amount of money flows into the account. This sinking fund, I should not have access to it.

“Fidelity is doing the real banking in this country because the staff of Air Peace – we are over 4000 – borrowed money from Fidelity just because you’re a staff of Air Peace. This is how it is done abroad. When you are a salary person you can afford to go to your bank and take a small loan which will be drawn gradually from your salary. This is what Fidelity does for the public and it should be said.“

Onyema then said, “I must say we are grateful to Fidelity, and I encourage any serious businessman in this country to approach Fidelity. I’m not doing an advert for them. What you are seeing today without God Almighty that brought Fidelity to work with us, it may not have happened. So, I encourage every other business concern in this country to look the way of Fidelity, they will support your business.”

Ozioma Samuel-Ugwuezi, Melissa Enoch, Nancy Mbamalu

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