Monday Editorial

It’s in the state’s interest to sell off the airline

At a lavish ceremony that speaks to misplaced priorities, the Akwa IbomState government recently unveiled Ibom Air, the first-state managed airline in the country. Currently made up of three aircraft – two Bombardier and one other, the airline would offer immense opportunities for growth, job opportunities and business mobility, according to Governor Udom Emmanuel. “We want to run the Ibom airline as one of the most efficient, economically viable and profitable that others will come to copy our business modules,” said Emmanuel who added, “our wholly owned airline will lessen the problems currently being encountered by our numerous air travellers.”

It is noteworthy that in the same address the governor recognised that the airline business is only “for those who are tested.” The question therefore is: Has Akwa Ibom been tested? The answer for us is an unequivocal No!Given the operating environment, we feel that Ibom Air’ would ultimatelylead to another waste of enormous public resources. The airline business worldwide is a risky one embarked upon by a very knowledgeable few and even the best have been known to failBesides, in Nigeria, the aviation industry is littered with carcasses of more than 40 private airlines, among them Okada, Chanchangi, Harka, Bellview, Sosoliso and ADC. At their peak, some of them could boast of more than 20 aircraft in their fleet, and many appeared seemingly well-managed. But they still failed!

To compound the problem, the nation’s aviation industry is currently going through financial stress and many of the airlines are highly indebted. Nigeria’s weak currency, the naira, has helped to complicate their woes as many of their needs – from aircraft to spares and other inputs- are imported and denominated in dollars. In the last few years, two of the nation’s promising airlines, Arik and Aero, were more or less on life support until the government came to their rescue and placed under the cover of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCOM).

Even so, many of the private airlines were exceedingly better managed than the state-owned national carrier, the Nigeria Airways, jocularly renamed, “Nigeria Airwaste” at the height of its problems. It was one airline many would better forget, no matter their patriotism because of the shame and ruin it brought to the country, due to mismanagement. Thus, despite the fanfare that attended the unveiling the name and logo of Nigeria Air at the Farnborough Air Show last July in United Kingdom, many remained sceptical that anything good could come out of a new national carrier. With the suspension in October 2018, many were vindicated, even when the ill-advised decision had cost the tax payers hundreds of millions of naira.

Right from the outset, many were not convinced by the argument from some industry experts that the national carrier could become a pivot for the rejuvenation of the industry and in the process help in manpower development. The real lesson from the country’s aviation sector is that government should be sceptical in investing in the high risk business as the expectations are often unrealistic.

From newspaper reports, the Akwa Ibom government has committed more than N200 billion in the business, most of it used in acquiring the three aircraft. It is an investment made in error because all hopes look increasingly forlorn. The routes the airline intends to fly are already adequately serviced by some private airlines in the country. But it is not too late for the government to retrace its steps. It should find some private investors with rigour and dispose it off. The money could find better use in providing health and educational facilities for the people of the state.    

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