Max Air: New Colossus in Hajj Operations

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It was quite crystal clear that the inefficiency in pilgrims' airlift to the Holy Land in the past resulted in Nigeria's failure to have a national career of its own. This gave private airlines the impetus to salvage the situation in most times. Many airlines like Kabo, Meridian, Medview, Belleview and Mangal, among others came into the scene. It is worthy to note that some of them have maintained consistency and shown the ability to deliver at different levels and capacities.

The birth of Max Air (formerly Mangal) and its entry into the aviation industry and subsequent successful venture into hajj operations in Nigeria is not only a blessing to the Muslim Ummah but a challenge to Airline operators in the country. With this birth, the monopoly in hajj airlift can be broken and fares may equally become competitive in future.

Although not as old as some of the Airlines, the entry of Max Air into the aviation industry dates back to 2006 and 2007 when it used chartered aircrafts to airlift its allocations to the Holy Land. From 15,000 pilgrims in 2006 to 25,000 pilgrims in 2007, the allocation to Max Air rose to 30,000 in 2009, only one thousand below the National Carrier, Kabo Air which used to grab the highest allocation in the past few years.

As for Max Air whose mission and vision are to offer stress-free services to Nigerians and especially the pilgrims at all time, nothing explains its ability to deliver on schedule than its wonderful outing in the 2009 hajj operation. It has proved beyond doubts that it is a delight in the air.

Its involvement in the 2008 rescue operation brought a big relief to thousands of pilgrims who were nearly stranded. Its Boeing 747 (300 series) aircraft was leased to Kabo Air to carry out the rescue mission for pilgrims when the deadlines for the completion of the operations were to close.

How Max Air operated this year was quite wonderful. It deployed its four Boeing 747 planes with the capacities of between 480 and 550. According to reports, Max Air took delivery of two new aircraft between December 2008 and early 2009.

However, critical review of the last Hajj operations showed that Max Air was outstanding. Some of the attributes to its operation were: efficiency and effectiveness: in about 120 trips for out-bound and home-bound journeys, it was able to airlift all the 30,000 pilgrims it was allocated by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria through choice-making by States.

Max Air maintained its timeliness, operated with giant aircrafts and sustained its entrepreneurial norms with the pilgrims. This attitude deserves kudos from Nigerians because, according to a local adage, when an achiever is praised, he is invigorated to do more. Max Air Management must, therefore, be encouraged. NAHCON should engage it in a long term contract.

Although the allocation is determined by the choices of States, NAHCON should equally consider efficiency and consistency in this regard. States, in their own capacities as major stakeholders in hajj affairs, should also assist the national body by choosing competent airlines. Let the managements of the States Boards and agencies stop playing politics with this respect because airlifting of pilgrims to and fro Jeddah or Medina Airports constitutes over half of the activities in hajj operations.

In as much as Nigerians expect competition among airlines in hajj operations, the following should be considered by those who serve the pilgrims in future: One, there should be cooperation among them so that whenever there is unavoidable lapses in the services, other airlines can assist. This is because their involvement in the operations is not only for the returns they make, but to afford the guests of Allah the highest level of comfort. If they do, they will also gain Allah's blessing and their businesses will continue to grow too.

Secondly, they should enhance their services to the pilgrims by blending the conventional with the traditional food stuff. There is cultural crisis for the first-time pilgrims who could be travelling for the first time on board an aeroplane. It has been observed that majority of the pilgrims find it very difficult to take the food served on board. So one of the two is the consequence: the food is recollected from the pilgrims and thus wasted or those who manage to take it face stomach aches. It is therefore recommended that Nigerian food is also served.

Thirdly, as the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria envisages reducing the operational days of Hajj, the airlines should strategize to meet up with the expected new policy, since it has been observed that some of the crises that arise from pilgrims are mostly connected with the stresses from their long stay in the Kingdom.

Fourthly, they should see to the provision of authentic flight schedules for both out-bound and home-bound journeys. This aspect of the operation avails NAHCON in the execution of its constitutional responsibilities towards the pilgrims. Although the schedules for the 2009 Hajj was commendable, there is need to submit such to relevant hajj interest groups for proper planning and execution.

The airlines should also work hard to engage bigger aircrafts during hajj especially during the return journeys to fasten airlifting processes. This is because every pilgrim becomes extremely anxious to go home after the hajj exercise. Situations where small aircrafts are used always slow down the return leg.

The issue of transporting pilgrims with their luggage and Zamzam water for pilgrims should be taken seriously by the airlines. Special arrangements could be made on how to bring the Zamzam water to Nigeria even before the pilgrims come back to the country, so that as the pilgrims arrive in their respective zones, they collect the quantity they are entitled to. The airlines should equally take any other measure that will assist in according the Nigerian pilgrim a stress-free, memorable and rewardable pilgrimage.

The future of airlines in hajj operations must remain a concern to the regulatory body and other hajj interest groups. The past experiences with airlines must always be reviewed to guard against a situation where incompetent ones would be politically slotted inconsiderate of the stresses they impose on pilgrims.

On a concluding note, the 2009 hajj operation was great and successful. If rating the four airlines that participated in the operation would make any difference, Max Air proved more serious, competent and therefore the first of all.

Muhammad Ajah wrote from headquarters, Abuja. [email protected] (08055247005)