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

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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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3 comments:

  1. Hey Great post. i'm a flight instructor with 1900 hours, B737 Type, been trying to get into airpeace, can you link me up with captain?

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  2. Captain Victor! The best pilot I have ever known.

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  3. The best thing human being can do is to save others life, chief Pilot Victor has did good thing by saving lifes God bless you

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