With offshore oil and gas a vital and growing component of West Africa’s economy, the region is seeing robust expansion among service providers. Lagos-based Toucan Aviation is one such company, making a name for itself by transporting oil and gas personnel up and down the busy Nigerian coast.
With the oil and gas business putting Nigeria in the global hydrocarbons Top Ten, charter services are required to shuttle engineers and other staff to points where they can take helicopters to offshore fields. The company, founded in 2011, operates such flights with a fleet of six aircraft (two Citation Sovereigns, one Citation XLS and three Embraer Legacys). Toucan has more aircraft on order. “We have around six Embraer aircraft on order in France, 50-seat ERJ145s that we are converting to a 22-seat regional luxury shuttle configuration. We are trying to dominate the sector,” said CEO Achuzie Ezenagu. The company took delivery of the first of these aircraft in late May.
“We went in head first and took the XLS and then the Sovereign. We grew organically. We went into partnership with a Swiss company, initially for finance, and then we bought our way in. They said they wanted to sell an aircraft. We went to our bank and it backed us. Toucan is the exclusive provider of general aviation to top oil companies,” Ezenagu told AIN.
Toucan enjoys a relationship with Caverton Helicopters, a Nigerian offshore oil and gas helicopter service. “Their helicopters take the engineers offshore to the rigs. Their main operation is in Port Harcourt. We run a shuttle from Lagos to Port Harcourt.”
The oil and gas business poses risks, as the recent downturn in oil prices has made clear. “Oil prices are cyclical. The [U.S.] shale guys are going into maintenance; the Saudis are pumping the Americans out of the market.”
The company also does some charter work outside the oil and gas business. Internal charter flights go from Lagos to the capital, Abuja, or Lagos to Port Harcourt. The company also operates the occasional international charter flight, “to places like Sao Tome and Principe, or Congo Brazzaville. We have on occasion flown to Cape Town and Paris. But that’s rare. We are busy in-country,” Ezenagu noted.
Return legs can pose problems, he added. “We don’t want the airplane out for four days because we will have complications, so long international trips don’t meet with our business model. Sometimes we turn away those flights.”
Toucan’s long-term business plan is to expand into serving agriculture. “We want to do agricultural exports. We are in talks to build our own hangar facilities. It’s an area that needs growth. If anything goes wrong in oil and gas, [you need alternative business lines.]” Ezenagu does not rule out the possibility of using aircraft as large as the Boeing 747 for this purpose.
“We have some banks on our roster, but our biggest customer now is oil and gas,” he said.