Why I resigned from Arik Air as Chief Pilot – Captain Victor Egonu| Says “Dad was an African Man, he had 6 boys from 4 women” + His British connection

Captain Victor Egonu with Asabeafrika’s Gbenga Dan Asabe

He has spent more than 25 years in
the aviation sector both as a private pilot and a commercial pilot but at 55, Captain Victor Egonu the half Nigerian-half-British
born Chief Pilot and head of Training and Procedure of the newly registered Air Peace Airline is still strong and
viable. 

His sojourn in the aviation
industry was primarily a self made decision away from the career pressures of
family and friends. Today he has nurtured his dream into a successful career
that saw him playing various industry changing roles at different airlines in
the last 34 years. I ran into him at the corporate headquarters of Air Peace on 25 Sobo Arobiodu Street, GRA
Ikeja
in the afternoon of Friday March 6 while on a visit with a senior
colleague on appointment with his boss, Barrister
Allen Onyema
for an interview. Right there I was introduced to him and a
friendship ensued. Good enough, he was very elated to know that I was equally
close to one of his great friends who is equally my very great elderly friend
of many years, Captain Chris Ona Najomo. Captain Chris Najomo has been a great friend of mine since my days
at FAME Publication and till date I revere him to be one of the greatest
Nigerian pilots with a rare talent to fly and communicate perfectly with his
passengers who  have all, suddenly turned
into his fans in the last 3 decades. Captain
Victor Egonu
, though reserved unlike Najomo
fondly called “Jolly Papa” but he could be very witty and fun to be with if
only you understand what turns him on. On Tuesday March 10, he hosted me at the
elite restaurant Barcelos on Isaac
John GRA ikeja and this is what he shared with Your Africa’s number 1 celebrity
encounter blog Asabeafrika.
Enjoy 

Sir, let’s have your brief resume; we
learnt you were formally of Arik Air? why did you join Air Peace?
You said you
know my very good friend Captain Chris
Najomo
at Arik?
Yeah, he is one of the best Pilots in
Nigeria and a veteran of over thirty years with great flying and landing
skills…
(Cuts in) I
employed him in Arik Air. I was the
first Chief Pilot of Arik Air and I brought in all those
guys on board but I know Chris (Najomo)
from Okada, I flew in Okada, I flew in Kabo. I have been flying since 1981. I have also worked abroad for
a great period of time and I came back because I actually believe that, it is
quite a shame for us not to have our own national carrier. If you look at Kenya Airways, South African Airways, they are all doing well. Why can’t Nigeria
have an airline that all of us can actually say ‘oh, we are proud of this
airline’. Of course we used to have one in the past but that was back then. Arik was supposed to be a great inspiration
but for some of us it didn’t really get to that level. So, we left. I left Arik in 2010 and this is the first time
I am getting back into an airline business. Basically I went into consulting
and I couldn’t see another airline that was not just being the normal
run-of-the-mill organization. When they started Air Peace, I got involved with some of my colleagues. I met the
chairman, he is a young chap, he has his ideas and his vision and why he wanted
to establish an airline with a difference and I said ‘ok, hopefully before I
retire from flying, we can get something done right’. And I spoke to my
colleagues and other younger pilots and everybody shared the same view. I am
trying to get an airline story that we can all retire and say ‘well, this is
what we would have expected an airline in Nigeria to be like’. So, on board, I
have a lot of ex-colleagues. I have the former Chief pilot of Aero Contractor; I got him to come here. Former Chief Pilot of Chachangi Airline is
here and two former chief pilots of Med-View
Airline
joined us. We have quite a lot of experienced people on board, we
have former Chief pilot of Bellview Airline before they collapse.
Basically, what we are trying to do now is to bring a lot of the younger
people; people who have the talent and only need to get the experience. We are
trying to put together what we feel will be an airline that people can look
back and say ‘yes, I am happy that this is a Nigerian brand’.

“You know my father was a medical
doctor and my grand father was a lawyer. My dad never tried to make me do
medicine, he always taught I was mechanically inclined and that was nice”.
How I became a Pilot
So, how did the journey of being a
pilot started for Captain Victor Egonu?
I was about
9 years old when it all started. My friend’s dad was a pilot and we went up in
a little air craft and that aircraft had a problem and everybody else was
afraid but I actually found it very exciting. And when they landed and we were
asked to go down because of the problem, I was like ‘no, I like to go back’ and
they were like ‘no, no, no, no’. So, when we were walking away I turned to my
friend and I said ‘you know what? I am going to become a pilot’. And that was
basically how I became one. My father was a medical doctor and it became a sort
of problem between me and him; my father was like ‘oh, no, no, go and do
engineering. When you finish engineering you can go and do flying if you want
to’. But I said ‘no, no, no, I want to fly and that was it.
Captain Victor Egonu, Chief Pilot, Air Peace
Maybe your dad thought you will be
risking your life flying?
That is
where I disagree with you; we are not risking our lives as pilots. We enjoy our
lives and our families as much as everybody else. That is what I tell
passengers; I say ‘look, be rest assured when I am flying you, I am not going
to take you in an aircraft that is not safe and I am not going to take you
through a weather that is not safe not just because I want the best for you but
I also want to come home and see my own kids’. But on a serious note, when we
do trainings and everything, one of my standard lines is ‘look if somebody want
to go on a roller-coaster ride, he goes to Orlando
he goes to Disney land and every
other interesting places. People do not just buy a ticket to go a journey from
point A-B on a roller coaster ride, they want to go safely and that is what we
try to give them as pilots. That is our standard as pilots.
Which was the first airline company
you worked with and what was the experience like?
The first
airline company I worked with out of school was actually Briscoe Helicopters. We were flying fixed wings for Shell Petroleum at the time. From there
I went to Mobil Oil where I worked
for a couple of years. But the first major airline I worked with was ADC, the
first ADC when they first started with one plane; that is when I joined them
because you know then it was for pilots; so we were all excited at that time
that ‘yeah, this is the first airline owned by a pilot, ran by a pilot, it
would be where everybody want to be and from there I left there for Kabo Air in Kano, then Kabo Air was a domestic airline. I
worked with them for eight years and from there did some time with Okada Air and after that I went abroad
then came back in 2003. I was into consultancy for a while before I joined Arik Air. Initially I had an offer from
Virgin Nigeria but I couldn’t
understand how Virgin Nigeria was
going to compete against Virgin Atlantic when it is run by Virgin Atlantic staff and management.
It was a question I asked myself and I wasn’t satisfied with the answer. So, I
joined Arik Air. At that time I
thought Arik Air was an indigenous
Airline and it was new and to give them credit, they actually brought in brand
new planes. I mean for me It was a privilege to go abroad and bring in brand
new air crafts to Nigeria. It was a great privilege. Then, I left them to do
some other things and here I am back into the airline business now with Air Peace. You know every time you do
something, you want to do it better than you did it the last time. So, this
time hopefully, we will get it right and make the best of the experiment.

“Then they will delay the flight from
8, 9 up to ten and they will say ‘Ok, come and join this flight at 10 which was
what they planned all along. But we are not like that, we are strict with
schedule; ‘this is our schedule, this is when we want to fly if it suits your
time, then come and fly with us.”
The GDA with Captain Victor Egonu after the encounter
What we did as younger pilots
While you were growing as a young
pilot what was the experience then compared to what we have now?
Let me be
objective, things have improved tremendously. Safety has gone up a lot; the
standards have gone up a lot. The aircrafts are much safer than they were even
all of us now, when we look back on some of those things we did twenty five
years ago, we are like ‘Ah, God really loves us’ you know that kind of a thing.
You know sometime when you are young you kind of think you are invincible and
you can get it right all the time. Yeah, we took some chances but then we were
all trained in Zaria and I will say
this anywhere anytime that Zaria
trained some of the best pilots in the world.
(Cuts in) You mean Jaji?
Jaji is the military wing while Zaria is the civil training center and
as far as I am concerned they trained some of the best pilots in Nigeria and
the world. If you go round the world you will find a Zaria product, go to Emirates, Saudi Air everywhere you will find a Nigerian pilot and they were
all trained there way back. So, I am very proud of my Zaria.
Our USP @ Air Peace
With the new experience at Air Peace,
what are those things that have changed with your work as a commercial pilot?
Well, we
have the maintenance culture which is very important with every organization.
The aircrafts are robust, it was like ‘ok, get out and get aircrafts that have
not been sitting in the deserts but have actually been flying. So, the air
crafts we bought were being used by Continental
Air
in the (United) State. They were actually taken out from there and
brought to Nigeria. We went to the state to pick them up. Aviation business is
always an ongoing process; we put in structures and processes that are as good
as everybody else’ and we are always trying to improve on standards. We hope
that the public will see this and benefit from our comprehensive service. I can
tell you, this is what it is but we hope that the public can come in and
actually see it for themselves. Good service all the time. If we don’t take off
all the time, we explain to you why and if it is our fault, we take the
responsibility. And if it is something that is out of our control like weather
or something like that we educate you properly. One thing about Nigerian passengers
is that they don’t want you to risk their lives. If you tell a Nigerian
passenger ‘look, I am going to delay this flight for an hour due to bad
weather’ the average Nigerian passenger will come and say ‘Captain, why don’t
you delay it for two?’ No, seriously, (Laughter) I mean, I have had it before
where passengers came to me and said ‘Captain, you know we are not in a hurry
o, we are not in a hurry’. If it is about the weather but when you tell them
“Operational Reasons”, even me, when I am at the airport at times, and I hear
“Operational Reasons” I get irritated. What is ‘operational reasons?’ Be
specific, give them the facts, and don’t play games with them. Some of the
things that are going on in the industry now are that some of the airlines will
say that we have a flight at 8 o’clock, we have a flight at 9 0’clock, we have
a flight at 10 0’clock, going to Abuja. Meanwhile they know that they are not
going to fly till 10 0’clock. Then they will delay the flight from 8, 9 up to
ten and they will say ‘Ok, come and join this flight at 10 which was what they
planned all along. But we are not like that, we are strict with schedule; ‘this
is our schedule, this is when we want to fly if it suits your time, then come
and fly with us.

“In the morning I will sit on my
balcony with my coffee like Fela in
my underwear; I will just relax and that used to be my dream and I will just
joke about it as far back as twenty years ago. But unfortunately with the
unrest all over north, that has changed a lot of things”.
So, what is the cost implication of
such a culture?
Initially,
it was strenuous and that was anticipated but then if people realize that you
are consistent, you keep time and they can plan with you; so, if an airline tells
me they leaves at 7 0’clock every morning yet sometimes they leave at 7:30 and
sometimes they don’t even leave but this other guy tells me he leaves at 7:30
and he leaves exactly at that time; so, what I do is that I plan leaving my
house and everything I am doing 7am and I make it at 7:30 and that makes it
more reliable. Right now, the price is not an issue because everybody is around
the same price because everybody is watching everybody. There is only so much
doughnut or meat pie you can give somebody; there is only so much business
class food you can give somebody. So, those things you can’t change. So, what
are the things you can change? The comfort of the plane and the time schedule,
your time factor speaks volume and you can equally try to make the flight as
smooth as possible. Of course, we don’t control the weather but at the same
time, we try and make it as smooth as possible.
The “untold lie” about plane crashes
Captain Victor Egonu….’A well trained pilot is the best component inside an aeroplane’
As an experienced pilot, can you tell
me what is majorly responsible for a plane crash between human and technical
error?
Unfortunately
I have to say a lot of time it is human error. But the thing is that machines
will always be machines but then we have so many back up systems that when
things are going wrong, you should be able to realize that things are going
wrong before you get to a situation that you can no longer control it unless it
is a catastrophe. That is one. Two, when there is an accident and everybody
dies, it is in the airlines’ interest and the manufacturers’ interest to blame
it on the crew because of insurance. Because if the people can prove that the
fault was with the air craft, then they could sue the manufacturer. Or if they
can prove that it is the airline itself, that the owner cut corners or
something, they can sue the airline as well. So, it is easier to put the blame
on the pilot and the crew who are dead and you can’t sue them. But generally,
if you watch the analysis of most aviation accidents and you see the reports,
it tends to be human error.  The truth of
the matter is that the safest component in the air craft is a well trained
pilot. So, the training matter most. Apart from being the chief pilot of Air
Peace, I am also the Head of training and procedures. And that is because we
want to make sure that the training is of the highest standard we can get. To
us, that is one of the most important safety features.
I am half British, Half Igbo
Some people actually told us you are
a half caste. Can you confirm that?
No, I am
from Anambra state but my mother is British. My father is from Anambra and mum
is full blown British.
Is any of your kid taking after you?
My first son
wants to be an Information technologist; I think my younger son might but I
have never tried influencing them. You know my father was a medical doctor and
my grand father was a lawyer. My dad never tried to make me do medicine, he
always taught I was mechanically inclined and that was nice. So, he wanted me
to do engineering and his argument was ‘ok, do engineering then you can do
flying afterwards and if something happens to you medically, you can always
fall back and become an engineer. And I said ‘look, in life you have to take
chances and this is my passion’.
How many of you in your family?
Six boys
Six straight boys from dad and mum?
Ah, ah, my
dad is an African man now, what is your stress? (General Laughter) We are six
boys from four different mothers.
But you are not in the league of
African fathers, are you?
No, I have
three boys from two different mothers. So, two boys with my first wife
unfortunately we got divorced and one boy from my second wife.
Are you looking for a girl child?
I was but I
have given up. I think I have my father’s gene so, I have given up. My brothers
have girls so I have decided to adopt my brother’s girls.
Don’t you think it will make sense to
make a fourth attempt and see if there could be luck?
No, no, no,
it is pension I have been using to train them so, it is okay for now.
Do you have a role model?
Role model!
Hmmm! There was one captain, his name is Captain
Baba Mohammed
and I find out that most people in Nigeria doesn’t know him
because he left Kabo Air and went to
presidency. But he is one of the guys who did so much for himself before the
era of CRM (Cockpit Resource Management) and all other programs were initiated
in our local aviation sector, he already had it naturally. When I was a
co-pilot he was a captain I looked up to for mentorship; even when I became a
young captain. Funny enough we are the same age but he was ahead of me, he is
someone I just looked up to and say ‘if I have to remodel myself, he will be
the person I will remodel myself after’.  He is from Niger state but he grew up and
lived in Zaria. His father settled down in Zaria. Right now, he works in the
presidency; in my opinion I regard him as one of the best pilots in Nigeria. 
Captain Victor Egonu to Asabeafrika…’Dad wanted me to be an Engineer but i choose flying’
So, what do you think the local
aviation industry need to improve?
We need to
inject more funds in training, like in Zaria, the training school in Zaria; we need to equip it to modern
status. The government also needs to give stimulus to the private airlines to
secure brand new aircrafts. Government could stand as guarantors so that they
can get new aircrafts from the factory over there in Europe or America because
if you are going to buy new aircraft and the bank tells you to bring 28%
interest, none of the airlines in the world, even Emirates will not survive with that kind of interest on loan. So, government
needs to come in and inject a stimulus for those that show a sense of
seriousness. The government should endeavor to support new investors in the
aviation sector.
What are your words for upcoming
pilots who are coming after you?
I think up
and coming pilots should strive to be as good as you can be and better. Be as
professional as you can and don’t set your size on one thing because it is a continuous
process. One thing I enjoy about my job is you are always learning, you are always
learning. No two flights are the same. That is exactly why I love flying
because you can’t get bored when you are flying. It is the most interesting job
on earth.
How old are you now?
55
Can you share your retirement plans
with me?
That is a
good question actually. I used to think I will retire into recreation business
and opening a bar or something like that but right now I am having a re-think.
Why? Long time ago before the situation in the northern part of Nigeria got to
the level it is at the moment, I used to go to Jos. I have always loved Jos
and because Jos is my favorite
Nigerian city I used to say I will build a big settlement like thirty minutes
out of Jos town and raise dogs. In
the morning I will sit on my balcony with my coffee like Fela in my underwear; I will just relax and that used to be my
dream and I will just joke about it as far back as twenty years ago. But
unfortunately with the unrest all over north, that has changed a lot of things.
But, we will see, hopefully Nigeria will settle down and that will change a lot
of things and we will be able to make new plan in few years time.
Captain
Victor Egonu to Asabeafrika….’I have three boys, I have stopped
looking for a girl child because i share same gene with dad
Are you thinking of putting your
ideas in a memoir?
That is
another good one; people have been telling me to do that; you see, that is one
of the reasons why I strived when I was in Arik
Air
, if you ask Captain Najomo
and co, I pushed to bring in a lot of young pilots and I am doing the same here
and fortunately I have the encouragement of the chairman here because we need
to give them as much experience as we can before we retire. We must pass it on
because people passed their knowledge unto us. So, we need to pass it unto
them.
Tell us the three best things Air
Peace, your new airline gives to Nigerian that will ever change the way they
have been flying before now?
First of
all, we are going to give them an air craft that is fully serviceable. We are
going to make sure that the crew that are operating are measured up to standard
as anybody else in the world and if we are to fly into a destination and we
feel there is any degree of danger on the flight; weather wise or what have
you, we will delay the flight and if we have to cancel the flight and
accommodate you at our own expense we will do it, we wont cut corners, that is
guaranteed.
How would you describe Barrister
Allen Onyema, the founder of Air Peace?
He is one
great guy with a lot of enthusiasm for leadership and self development. I will
give you a quick one just to buttress my point about him. On the 17th
of this month I will be going to Addis
Ababa
for the 3rd African
Aviation Training Conference
. So, all the top airlines in Africa are coming
together to discuss improvement in training of African aviation personnel not
just pilots, everybody. From pilots, engineers, ticketing executives etc; the
conference actually starts from the 15th for two days regarding
maintenance. Then from the 18th it goes on to training and other
aspect. I am going for training and when I came to him to inform him and I told
him that I will like to go for the two days conference which covers the
training; he (MD) was like ‘no,no,no, I want you to go for five days so that
you can network and meet other people from other airlines across the globe and
share ideas and see what we can get from them. I was quite impressed and I said
‘ok, good, good, he is not running away from the cost implication. He is like
‘oh, you want to go for two days, no I want you to go for 5 days. That is
somebody that is very much interested in enhancing leadership. We are the only
airline in Nigeria that is going for that conference. Apart from the head of
training center in Zaria who will be
at the conference because he is making a speech there, we also have somebody
from the Nigerian Aviation Management Authority (NAMA) but we are going
to be the only Nigerian Airline at that conference. We registered and they sent
us an invitation and it is not just me alone, our head of maintenance is also
going for the maintenance side of the business and we are going to rob mind
with all the top airlines in the world, Ethiopian
Airlines,
Kenya Airways, South African Airways and share ideas
on ways to go forward.

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