By Philip Nwosu
Before the Bellview Airlines Boeing 737 aircraft, flight 210 came down, the airline has flaunted an impressive records of flying the local and international air routes for 10 years without any blemish.
Indeed, the airlines scored many first in the field of aviation in Nigeria and Africa, that when the accident occurred late Saturday evening, many passengers were queue at the counter of the airlines, still booking spaces for their local and international travels.
For them, the Bellview airlines remains one of the safest airlines to travel with, in the local a international route.
According to some passengers who started flying the airlines seven years ago, Bellview Airlines remain one of the airlines that braved Abuja routes in the early days of democracy in Nigeria when it introduced the Abuja Shuttle flight, which sees passengers to and from Abuja for governmental meetings and business engagements.
The Chief Executive Officer of the organisation, Mr. Kayode Odukoya, said in a recent interview that the successes recorded by the company is a result of its hardwork since 1992 when it started operations as an airline.
He said: “In 1992, Bellview Airlines commenced scheduled passenger services within the country, using a DC-9-32 series aircraft leased directly from the Boeing Company. The airline and her affiliate, Bellview Sierra Leone, have since grown into a sector leader in the country and flagship regional carrier in the West African sub-region, providing services to seven international destinations in Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Senegal, Ghana, Gambia. Our operations have expanded into central African countries of Cameroun and Gabon.
“Bellview thus operates in nine countries, with over 25 daily scheduled flights to 11 cities in the sub-region.”
He said that the Airlines have continued to maintain a good share of the air transport market in the West African region, especially when it was voted the best airline of the year in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998- four consecutive years-in the country.
It was learnt that the successes recorded by airlines is a result of over 15 years of hard work and the airlines Chief Executive Officer said “this is just our early days and so far, we’ve been able to build a strong airline. I think the credit for evolving a strong airline should not be given to me alone. It belongs to the entire team.
Going back to history, it was learnt that the airline started as a travel agency in Lagos in 1989. Three years after, it leased a Russian-built aircraft, a Yak-40 with a seating capacity of 30 with which it commenced executive charter operations.
The airline now operates London Heathrow, United Kingdom and Mumbai (Bombay) in India, with plans to expand the long haul services to destinations like Dubai and Johannesburg soon.
Bellview is the first airline to operate Airbus A300-600 aircraft in Nigeria after the national carrier and the first privately owned airline to do so in Africa.
Its A300-600R commenced operations to Brazil, India and Kenya on November 21, 1997. From 1998 it commenced flight operations into Amsterdam, the Netherlands, while the long haul service was discontinued in 2000.
Bellview currently operates with a fleet of five B737-200s and has just taken delivery of two wide-body modern aircraft (767-200Ers) in readiness for her intercontinental operations. Consequent on getting government approval in the designation on international routes, the Airlines has commenced a non-stop operations between Lagos and Mumbai.
With the 767-200Ers, Bellview has begun offering flights to London through Freetown through her affiliate Bellview Sierra Leone. Now an intercontinental airline, Bellview, wholly private shareholding, has risen above N1.1 billion in investors’ fund.
With this record, Odukoya said: “We want to grow to become the strongest airline on the continent. We’re really moving gradually to that and you’ll believe that it is no easy feat. It’s a great challenge and you need capital and determination to get there. But we’re undeterred.
“Painfully as well, we do not operate on the same level field with foreign airlines. It’s bad. It is even more painful that foreigners are getting regular increase in the number of frequency of flights, yet we’re here, Nigerians in Nigeria clamouring for the same thing and we get denied. We do not get such fair opportunity. It’s a bit surprising to trade your frequency for royalty. Rather you should trade your frequency for jobs, infrastructure, for retaining your capital and for strengthening your country.
“We have been asking the government to give us opportunities. We have demonstrated without doubt that we have the capacity to go to Europe and the international community has a lot of confidence in us.
“We really want a level playing field and that is what I always tell the press to help us in that regard. Let all of us go out there and do our best. Naturally, market forces will dictate the pace and unserious airlines will be pushed out. That is how it ought to be. Not giving a perceived better party all the opportunities to the detriment of the indigenous ones.”