The National Carrier Question

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    Industry experts at a forum in Lagos, recently reviewed the the national carrier, Nigeria Air, which was unveiled by the federal government about a fortnight ago.

    The experts spoke at the event organised by the League of Airport and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC).
    Despite the unveiling of the national carrier, the plan to establish a national airline still has continued to be a subject of debate.

    Despite explanations from the federal government, the doubt about the credibility of the transaction still lingers.
    Many in the aviation industry believe that with the government now having stakes in Arik Air and Aero Contractors, through the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), the two airlines should have formed the fulcrum for a national carrier. But the management of AMCON has made it clear that the agency has no connection with the national carrier project.

    The Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika had also said that the two airlines have their objectives and manuals which are different from what government wants to establish as a national carrier.

    Commenting on the planned national carrier, Nigerian international aviation consultant, the Chairman of the African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA) and the CEO of African Aviation Services, Nick Fadugba said there are many questions that need to be answered in terms of the management and the funding of the national carrier.

    “So I believe the government now needs to brief the Nigerian people on the national carrier. Rather than doing it abroad (the unveiling at Farnborough) we need to come home and explain to the whole nation what the concept is.

    More importantly I am interested in how do the national carrier would interface with all the other airlines in Nigeria. Because remember that the government is the de facto owner of two other airlines: Arik and Aero.
    “So this is the first time I have seen one government own three airlines. So the government needs to coordinate its airlines strategy in terms of moving forward,” he said.
    Fadugba, who is also the former Secretary General of African Airlines Association (AFRAA), noted that Nigerian airlines need to cooperate and partner with themselves to maximise opportunities and drive down cost of operation.
    “Nigerian is blessed with the biggest domestic aviation market on the Africa continent, bigger than South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopian and many other countries. And yet we have not been able to harness this market for our own benefit.

    “The beneficiaries are foreign airlines; our airlines need to work together. If you have five aircraft, 10 aircraft, it is nothing in the world of aviation. We need a critical mass. If you look at Ethiopia, they have 100 aircraft; that is one airline, and yet we have 10 airlines here with maybe five aircraft each.

    “We need to work together otherwise the economics of the business are not in favour of the operators. They need to come together to scale up to get a critical mass. They can work together in training, maintenance, in spare pooling, aircraft acquisitions.

    “There are many areas African airlines and Nigerian airlines in particular can work together. So we need more cooperation in Nigeria among our airline,” Fadugba said.

    He noted that for the planned national carrier to be successful and for other domestic airlines in Nigeria to operate profitably, Nigeria should have major aircraft maintenance facility locally and it should be able to build a hub.

    Fadugba, said maintenance hub was critical for a country to have a hub, saying as long as Nigeria does not have it, with cost of aviation fuel relatively very high; a national carrier would find it difficult to survive in the country.

    He also said that Nigeria needs modern airports with modern facilities in order to effectively attract passengers and also dominate the West Coast.

    “We have a choice in Nigeria between Abuja and Lagos but the economic hub is definitely Lagos because that is where the economic activity is, which generates air traffic. So what we need to do is to completely, radically improve the infrastructure at Murtala Muhammed Airport.

    “It is a great airport but it is not coping with the current challenges of growth. There are many things which are wrong with the airport right now in terms of infrastructure, if I had my way I would build a completely new one, but maybe we can’t afford it.

    “Therefore, when we talk about restructuring, we have spent a lot of money over the past five or 10 years on restructuring airports and I can’t really see meaningful, tangible benefits. There have been improvements but not in a meaningful way and if Nigeria is to move forward, if we are to build an effective hub, to improve connectivity, then we need to radically improve the infrastructure on our airports in Nigeria,” Fadugba said.

    Despite the hoopla about the national carrier, Nigerians are yet to see an airline beyond logo, livery and name.