Uncertainty Surrounds National Carrier Project


Chinedu Eze

There are no indications that anything is being done by the federal government to actualise the national carrier project since the federal government announced plan ro revisit the project.

After the shock that greeted the suspension of the project, what has been said about the proposed airline, known as Nigeria Air, is that it would be actualised despite the suspension then.
To give teeth to that assertion made by the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, about N4. 6 billion was earmarked for it in the 2020 budget.

But since after the pronouncement there are no indications that anything is being done to realise the project; except campaigns being mounted by some industry stakeholders that point out reasons why Nigeria should have a national carrier.

Some weeks ago, the aviation labour unions declared that they were in support of the project because it would create jobs and help to develop the industry, but they denounced government’s plan to concession the airports, saying it would cause labour upheavals.

But THISDAY learnt that many industry stakeholders are skeptical that the project would be realised between now and end of Buhari administration’s second tenure because there is nothing on the ground beyond the unveiling of the airline’s livery and logo in London last year.

Late last year, the industry think-tank body, Aviation Round Table (ART) had warned the federal government that its plan to establish a successful national carrier may not be realised with the current process that lacks transparency.

The group condemned the procedure in which aviation agency heads were made members of the national carrier committee, noting that industry regulators should not participate in the establishment of an airline that would compete with other domestic carriers because it sends the message that there would be no level playing field.

ART had then urged the federal government to follow the rules in registration of the airline, just like other airlines do to show that the planned carrier was not being given undue advantage over others already in existence.

But since then government had not reviewed the membership of the committee; neither has it set out a new timeline on the sequence of the process towards the realisation of the project.
THISDAY learnt that the Transaction Adviser that was expected to complete the process seemed to be in limbo because there is no indication that it is still working on the national carrier project.

But industry consultant and CEO of Belujane Konsult said there is new urgency in the need to establish the national carrier, considering the fact that Nigeria is currently shortchanged in the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) because many international destinations whose airlines operate to Nigeria are not reciprocated because the country does not have strong carriers.

Industry stakeholder and former Managing Director of Capital Airlines, Amos Akpan, said Nigeria has all it takes to establish the national airline if government is determined to do so and also noted that two or more strong airlines in Nigeria would strengthen the current lopesided situation where Nigeria is not earning much from its huge passenger traffic on international destinations.

“On the issue of national airline, Nigeria has the money, the personnel, the training institutions, and the market to establish and run a national airline.
“The decision is with our political leaders. Do they want to see one up and running while in office or does the idea offer juicy money making avenues that will distract them from meeting the target?” he asked.

THISDAY findings showed that there are no indications that the national carrier project would kick off soon because there is nothing on ground to indicate that.
An industry operator told THISDAY that aircraft is not acquired off the shelf; it is ordered, so an airline that wished to operate new fleet would have to other the airplanes and this takes time to deliver.

“At the recently concluded Dubai Air Show, you noticed that airlines signed firm orders with aircraft manufacturers. You noticed that Air Senegal signed orders with Airbus, Ghana singed orders with Boeing. If you want a national carrier to kick off in 2023, by now you must have made your orders and other logistics have to be in place, like structures. Where are the offices or make-shift office where the national carrier is being planned?” the official asked.