Our captain happens to be the first female captain in Air Peace. After flying with Air Peace for some years, she finally attained the captainship position.
Mrs Toyin Olajide is a bold lady of many firsts who saw to the accomplishment of Nigeria’s first “all female flight crew” when Air Peace Airline operated a round trip flight from Lagos to Abuja and finally landed at Owerri Airport in Imo State, for the first leg and a return journey to Lagos through Abuja, amid thunderous, carnival-like celebrations. The successful flight marked a milestone in Nigeria’s aviation history. She holds a First Class Honours degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Lagos with over 20 airline industry professional certificates in her kitty.
How has it been being the arrow head of a leading airline in Nigeria in the past 4 years?
In the last four years, Air Peace has actually achieved a lot. We have increased our routes in the West coast to Banjul, Freetown, Dakar in Senegal and Accra, Ghana. We increased our fleet from 7 to 24 aircraft, and we are still going. We have also created new domestic routes such as Kano, Yola and Akure. Makurdi will soon commence. We are still buying more planes because right now our route expansion requires a whole lot of more equipment than we currently have. So far, we are still looking for more airplanes to satisfy the needs of the members of this blessed country. One of the reasons Air Peace was established is actually to unite this country and provide employment for Nigerians. We believe that the more airplanes we acquire, the more people we are able to give jobs, the more we unite the country and the more routes we are able to fly into by connecting different countries. We have just acquired six ERJ 145 planes, which is a whole lot. This particular airplane is really going to unite this country. It simply means we can fly from Benin to Port Harcourt, Enugu to Kano, Sokoto to Abuja to Lagos to Makurdi etc. The essence is to unite Nigerians. Air Peace as at today has in its organization over 2000 staffers from different parts of this country. It is one airline that is very gender sensitive. We love and respect our women because they are very committed.
How was the Air Peace ‘All Female Flight’ conceived?
Our captain happens to be the first female captain in Air Peace. After flying with Air Peace for some years, she finally attained the captainship position. And that was going to be an ‘All Female Flight’, and we needed to show Nigerians how much Air Peace is supporting this country, respecting gender, we believe in our staff, industry and Nigeria. By God’s grace we will have more of that.
That all-female-flight was the first in Nigeria. It made history because we have never had a flight where the cockpit crew, cabin crew, flight engineer, ground staff, despatcher; all the people that attended to that flight were all indigenous staff, all Nigerians, there was no foreigner. This is the first time you would have such a milestone being achieved in Nigeria and this only happened to the glory of God through Air Peace. We are indeed very grateful to God. We have a wonderful team. In Air Peace we are like a family; we all work to bring the best out of ourselves. We believe we have not arrived; Air Peace is still improving; we still believe we need to do a lot with processes and procedure; we are training people, getting a lot of assistance, investing in our operation, personnel, human resources, equipment to make sure we build a world class airline. This will happen one day by the grace of God.
How prepared is Air Peace to meet the competition that will come from the proposed new national carrier and other airlines?
Air Peace is not shaken by any existing airline or new one coming up because we have our standard. We have our target. Air Peace is a focused airline. As I said earlier, we know our vision. We try as much as possible to put policies, processes and procedure in place and to have the right team around us that would help drive the vision. So we are not worried about any airline coming on board. Again, the sky is big enough for everybody; what we worry about is having enabling environment to operate in. We have a whole lot of improvement that still needs to happen in the industry that would help airlines to survive. And once we can have all that in place in the areas of airport infrastructure, right landing haze, right operating environment, then this country will have a very viable aviation sector. It is possible and doable because this is one industry that generates huge revenue for the economy of this country. It is one industry that the government needs to pay attention to. We don’t want to destroy it.
What exactly do you mean by enabling environment?
It is a whole lot; the airports are not up to the desirable standard. We need to have an airport with the right infrastructure, landing haze, conducive environment of operating and this issue of multiple taxation, which will not help the airlines. The airlines must compete favourably with their international counterparts. Enabling environment is key to the industry; it is needed to achieve the best.
Has the attention of the government be drawn to these challenges?
Yes of course, they are aware. But I must tell you that the government has actually tried. Give it to our Minister. The government is doing the very best to give the industry a much conducive environment for the operators. We have the issue of the zero waivers on aircraft space, which the Minister made happen; that is a huge relief on the operators; the issue of the VAT which is being removed from transport, these are things they are doing to make life easier for the operators. But then, there are still other areas to look into. It’s only about three or four airports that are open 24hours in Nigeria. That is to say only about 10 to 20 per cent of the airports in Nigeria operate 24hours. If you have airports in the country that you cannot fly to after 5-6:00pm, how do you break even? When you have issues with the weather in the morning hours and have delays in the departures, as a result, flights are being pushed to later in the day, by the time it is 6:00pm and you cannot accommodate some of these flights anymore, it results to cancellation of flights and that is a huge loss in the process. Planes are not supposed to sit on the ground, they should be flying. You cannot possibly have just one screening point at the airport to facilitate over 2000 passengers within three hours. How possible is that? Passengers do not understand all these challenges. If these things are looked into, the industry will be a more favourable place for all.
How did you become the first female Managing Director of Air Peace, which is a leading airline in Nigeria?
I didn’t become managing director of Air Peace through written application. No! I applied as Head of Safety and was employed in February 2014, for the same position. Two months after, I went to the School of Aeronautics, in Sheffield, United States of America and got my Federal Aviation Authority (FAA licence). When I came back to the country in early June, I was still functioning as Head of Safety, whose responsibility then was to oversee functions of the whole operations because you must be everywhere, all the departments; if you are talking about aviation, your priority is safety which involves engineering, lights, capping, human resources etc. I was involved to review so many things in maintenance, in operations; there was nothing I did not get involved in. I was just doing my best not knowing that my management was watching me.
One fateful midnight, my chairman called me and asked me questions on the conversation we had earlier and I repeated all the things I said. He then said, Ok, check your mail, for a mail sent to me. I picked up my laptop and lo and behold I saw a mail from Human Resources (HR) congratulating me as the Managing Director and Acting Chief Operating Officer of Air Peace. Then, I screamed loudly that it woke my husband up; he jumped out and asked what the problem was? The shock could not let me talk; I pushed the laptop to him.
It was the last thing that I expected, there was no hint from anybody, no interview, no clue, no briefing or at least ask if I could fit into the big shoe; nothing like that at all. But that night, I knelt down, raised my hands to God in prayers and said, God in heaven, for the singular reason that I knew nothing about this appointment, I put Air Peace before you, that you would make it a success story. Yes, I have been in charge of departments of an airline but not running an entire airline; I do not know what it means to run an airline. But here we are four years after basking in the grace of God.
After four years, what does it mean to be the very first female MD/COO of an airline?
I feel humbled and very grateful to God. It is quite exciting and at the same time it is a whole lot of responsibilities because you have a whole lot of people looking up to you who could not be let down. It is challenging actually but at the same time, you know a lot of people are looking up to you, you want to continue to give it your very best, especially for the young females out there, You want them to know that nothing can stop anyone. If you set your mind to achieve something, it is possible and doable. If I can be the COO of this airline today, anybody, any woman, any female, any lady or any young girl out there can also be a COO of any airline or industry in the world; it is doable with a lot of determination and God on one’s side. That I believe strongly.
Give us a snapshot of this MD of Air Peace?
I studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Lagos. In my class then, we were seven girls that grappled with it among the boys. My first job was with Zenith Bank, I got the job before I went for the national youth service. After two years, I left for UK to join my husband and while I was there, I went to Cranfield University and studied Human Relationship and Personnel Management, after which, I came back to the country and started off my aviation career with Bellview Airlines as Quality Assurance Inspector; from there I moved to Dana Air, where I rose to become Deputy Head of Safety for four years, 2010-2014. When Air Peace came on board, someone called my attention to join and head their Safety Department.
You have won so many Awards in a short time.
The Almighty God has been on our side. When we get nominations, we simply believe God is at work and our hard work and commitment. We have a chairman who is very passionate and focused about this airline. He is ready and willing to run Air Peace the way an airline should be run. He is not stopping at investing, he is not stopping at making available the required resources, he is giving this airline a solid foundation to be able to sustain and withstand the test of time. That is what you see in the awards that Air Peace is getting now and then simply because the airline is set on a very solid foundation.