In 1964, the United Nations Flight Unit established the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, known then as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Training Centre.
About the same time, UN also established similar training centres in Dakar, Senegal, in Nairobi, Kenya and in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Today the training centre established in Addis Ababa has metamorphosed to a great aviation school that caters for students all over Africa and beyond. During this time there were almost 20 years hiatus NCAT was left in the doldrums or it was literally abandoned before the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo resuscitated it.
Reports had it that the college was being funded by the UN, but one Nigerian military head of state had told UN that instead of funding the college directly the money should be giving to the Nigerian government. That was how the UN withdrew from funding the school.
This writer learnt from a veteran Ethiopian aviator that most Nigerian Air Force officers of old trained along with Ethiopians at NCAT or the school in Addis Ababa. But today, the school in Ethiopia has grown to become a big institution dubbed as one of the best in Africa, while NCAT still offers only Private Pilot License (PPL).
It is the same with the defunct Nigeria Airways and Ethiopia Airlines. Ethiopia Airlines was established on December 21, 1945, while Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) was established a year later as West Africa Airways Corporation, and in 1958 it became known as NAL.
Today NAL is defunct, while Ethiopia Airlines is the biggest and most profitable airline in Africa. With its code-share and Star Alliance partners it connects to the whole world.
Travel expert, Ikechi Uko said the success of Ethiopia aviation is “a combination of many things: History, processes adopted, succession plan, continuity and discipline. Then you also look at the people involved in running the airline, you will see a lot of commitment and passion for excellence.
Today Ethiopia Airlines operates to four destinations in Nigeria. Uko said that it is the airline that understands the Nigerian market, its idiosyncrasies and has high regard for Nigerian travellers, “because it is an African airline that understands us as Africans and shares our aspirations.”
On Monday, the airline marked its 70 years of existence in Lagos with journalists and disclosed that it started operating to Nigeria seven days after Nigeria’s independence, which means it has been operating into the country for 56 years both during the good and the bad times.
The airline reaffirmed its commitment to the Nigerian project and as an African airline, it shares the aspirations and developmental goals of Nigeria, where it operates to four destinations.
Ethiopian decided to reassert this commitment at the time other international carriers are contemplating leaving Nigeria due to the current economic recession and the attendant forex difficulties, while others have cut back their operations in the country.
The Country Area Manager Nigeria, Mr. Solomon Begashaw remarked: “As a veteran Pan-African carrier Ethiopia Airline has always been our source of pride to serve our beloved continent, Africa, both in good and bad times. Our presence in Nigeria dates back to the 1960, same time the Federal Republic of Nigeria got independence from foreign colonisation. Ethiopian has been part of Nigeria’s historic growth and always considers itself as a partner in the history and growth of Nigeria as a country; hence, the management of Ethiopian Airlines wishes to clarify its stance of pursuing its operation to Nigeria and keep Nigerian travellers connected to five continents around the globe.
“As an indigenous Pan-African carrier, Ethiopian airlines will remain with the Nigerian public in good and bad times like it has always done in the past 56 years. Ethiopian has been in the highs and lows of Nigeria; all through the crisis periods of Nigeria and also during the last Economic crisis, providing the link between Nigeria and the outside world there by showing its African solidarity.”
Currently, Ethiopian serves the Nigerian traveler from four Airports of Lagos, Abuja, Enugu and Kano. To reinforce its support to Nigeria; Ethiopian is offering to hire Nigeria pilots for its ever growing fleet of Boeings: B777, B787, B737 and Dash 8 Q-400 Aircraft, train more Nigerians in its aviation academy, which is the largest in Africa.
Besides, Begashaw said Ethiopian Airlines has always served Nigeria with the best aircraft in its fleet like the A350 Airbus, B787 Dreamliner and the B777 wide body aircraft.
“In the spirit of African brotherhood, Ethiopian Airlines does not wish to be in Nigeria only when the going is good, rather, it is willing to make sacrifices along with Nigerians in this trying time, knowing that Nigerians are resilient and resourceful people and will soon come out of the temporary recession. As the Airline celebrates 70 years of existence, it has extended free tickets to Nigerians who liked Ethiopian Airlines Nigeria Facebook page,” Begashaw said.
The Nigeria aviation sector has so much to learn from Ethiopia aviation. While Nigeria has so much in abundance, it lacks the discipline and commitment to harness its possibilities to grow its aviation sector to the enviable heights, which the Ethiopia Airline has attained.