We continue our Meet The Executive series with a close-up interview with veteran aviation Executive, Mr. Sukh Mann, who is the Managing Partner of dre aviation.
Here is an excerpt of our exclusive conversation with him.
da: It's been an interesting year for you both on personal assignments and developing the dre aviation business, how has 2023 started for you?
SM: 2023 has started off with a robust pipeline of work for the firm, this is the busiest year in our history, so we must be doing something right.
That coupled with airline owners, especially in Africa, increasingly appreciating the need to bring in qualified management to ensure profitability and longevity of the carrier has seen increased demand for our services.
We have also been engaged in a Ground Handling project this year but I terminated that contract from our side due to observing a number of non-compliances. As an emerging global aviation consulting firm, we cannot associate ourselves or condone non compliant and unethical practices even if it means loss of revenue for the firm.
In all, 2023 has started off well and we hope to keep the pipeline of work flowing well into the future.
da: Can you tell us a little more about the IT JV MOU that you have just signed?
SM: I can tell you a little but we will make a formal announcement in or around June or July this year. dre aviation has signed an MOU with a well established IT service provider and we will be focussing on workstreams that develop niche APPs for our clients predominantly in the airline sector. These APPs will be not only be for standard IBEs but also bespoke for other areas which I can't disclose right now. However, this is our first venture into IT solutions and we are confident that we have partnered with the right IT firm in order to add incremental value to the sector. More details will be shared mid year.
da: You're currently in Asia, are there any updates about future projects from that region?
SM: That's correct, I am spending some time on business development in Asia and I am keen to bring our core advisory and consulting services here in order to add value to the Asian market whilst also promoting the African aviation sector to Asian aviation firms and investors.
I see an opportunity for Asian Airlines, Ground Handlers, ATOs and MROs to align with, invest in and partner with their African counterparts. I believe that with dre aviation's network and footprint in Africa we can alleviate some of the compliance and governance concerns that the Asian investors may have when it comes to investing in African aviation.
I am keen to open dre aviation offices in India and the Far East in Q4 2023 or early 2024.This is, infact, one of my top priorities for 2023.
da: Are you following the developments at Jet Airways.
SM: Yes, very closely.
Sanjiv Kapoor's resignation last week as Designate CEO was a surprise, the relaunch of India's most beloved carrier has taken a step back but the project isn't derailed. I think the project has been put back by 5-6 months due to regulatory hurdles taking longer than envisaged, the expiry of the Jet Airways AOC on the 19th May will also mean that they will have to reapply and go through a new approval process which will take 4-5 months, by then hopefully all regulatory matters will be resolved and we should see a launch by mid Q4 this year, as per my understanding.
da: Would you be interested in joining Jet Airways, we know you have ambitions.
SM: If the opportunity presented itself, of course. It would be an honour.
da: There has been news overnight that Go First has ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy protection, what are your thoughts.
SM: This is correct and the news is still being disseminated to the market. My immediate thoughts are with the travelling public who have been affected by the grounding and for the employees and the supply chain eco system. Despite the competitive nature of the industry, nobody likes to see a carrier fail.
My personal opinion is that issues began to manifest themselves at Go First many months ago and decisive corrective action wasn't taken.
I just hope that they are able to come out of bankruptcy for the sake of the employees.
da: Back in Nigeria, should Arik Air be returned to it's Founder - Mr Johnson Arumemi Ikhide?
SM: Absolutely, Yes.
I watched the news in Nigeria in awe seeing Sir Johnson try to access the Arik compound following the recent court ruling granting him such. Frustrating him and denying him access was wrong. He is the rightful owner of the airline and the court granted him access to his office.
As long as he acknowledges the carrier's debts and is allowed to return to run the airline then where is the issue?
Nigeria will not have a better and more dedicated airline owner and operator than Sir Johnson. I personally have not met anyone more passionate and well intended as an airline investor in Nigeria in my 30 plus years in the industry. I would go as far as saying that the Nigerian aviation sector needs him back at the helm of Arik.
da: FAAN have recently demolished a number of buildings in the Ajao Estate, Lagos. Did they do the right thing?
SM: Yes, totally. Aviation safety is paramount and deliberate encroachment on airport land puts flight safety at risk. FAAN did well to take such action.
da: Can you give us an update on some of the current projects that dre aviation are involved with?
SM: A number of our projects are commercially sensitive and confidential but I can disclose that we have just finalised a business plan for a new startup carrier in Africa following months of due diligence and analysis, we are about to announce a major aviation IT innovation project in the sphere of CSR, we have been given approval in principle for the issuance of 2 new ground handling licenses for our clients in Africa, we are currently working on a new domestic carrier proposal for a private client in West Africa and are also working on an equity related funding exercise for an airline to aid their fleet expansion programme. I have to be cryptic due to the confidential nature of the projects but we are, indeed, busy.
da: A quick fire round, please answer yes or no:
da: Will Nigeria Air happen?
da: Is the Turkish and Rwand Air tie up positive for African aviation?
da: Should FAAN be privatised?
da: Should there be more economic and financial regulation of airlines by the CAA's globally?
da: What do you think are the top 3 reasons why carriers fail?
SM: Unqualified management, poor financial planning, lack of strategy
da: Many thanks for your time, we hope to see you back in London soon.
SM: Before I go I would like to congratulate Vanessa Hudson on her appointment as CEO at Qantas and wish her every success.
It was interesting to talk to Sukh and we will try to catch up with him more regularly so that our clients and followers can get a sense of where the firm is heading and to get his opinion on current industry news and events.