The Federal Government is still holding discussions for the establishment of a national carrier for Nigeria, three years after it unveiled the branding and livery for the proposed airline, named Nigeria Air.
Officials of the Federal Ministry of Aviation stated on Friday that plans to get the airline up and running were still in place, as the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, tweeted last Thursday that discussions for the project was held at the United States Embassy in Abuja.
This came as Nigerians condemned the continued delay on the part of the Federal Government in establishing the national airline.
In July 2018, the Federal Government unveiled the branding and livery for the new airline, Nigeria Air, and stated that the carrier would be inaugurated at the end of that year.
Sirika unveiled the carrier at a press conference during the Farnborough Air Show in London that year.
“I am very pleased to tell you that we are finally on track to launching a new national flag carrier for our country, Nigeria Air. We are all fully committed to fulfilling the campaign promise made by our President, Muhammadu Buhari, in 2015. We are aiming to launch Nigeria Air by the end of this year,” the minister had stated.
He had stated that the government had obtained the Certificate of Compliance from the Nigerian Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission and would go into investor search.
“I am confident that we will have a well-run national flag carrier that is a global player, compliant with international safety standards and one which has the customer at its heart,” the minister had stated.
But about three years down the line, no national carrier has been inaugurated, as against the initial plan to inaugurate the airline before the end of 2018.
Rather, the minister tweeted that discussions were still ongoing for the proposed airline.
Speaking via his official Twitter handle on Thursday, the minister said, “Was invited to break my fast at the USA (United States of America) Embassy.
“We took the opportunity to discuss investments and opportunities in the aviation sector, including national carrier. The partnership looks promising. USA is the only country we have open skies with. Thanks Ambassador Mary and the team.”
Also, senior officials of the aviation ministry stated on Friday that the government had not jettisoned the plan to float a national carrier for the country.
“The plan is still in place and the processes for the establishment are still being pursued despite the delay since it was unveiled,” an official who pleaded not to be named, as he was not authorised to speak on the matter, stated.
The source added, “The government has been reaching out to investors and concerned stakeholders on this project and the minister is still passionate about it.”
But Nigerians took to Twitter to express their disappointments over the delay that had greeted the commencement of the project since it was unveiled about three years ago.
Replying the minister’s tweet, a Twitter user, Aliyu Abubakar, said, “You’ve been talking about this national carrier from your first ministerial debate during the 8th Assembly. I just pray it will be a dream come true for Nigerians before you vacate your office.”
But another user, Lioness, replied, “A dead dream.”
Also, Olayimika-Mobalarinwa tweeted in pidgin, as he said, “Imagine, this country don really suffer o. Old man still talking about national carrier. How many years remain for una to leave us alone sef.”
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Also, another Twitter user, I.am.mahmoud, told the minister that the current government had limited time to actualise the national carrier dream.
“Two years to go without national carrier,” he stated.
Commenting on the development, an aviation security consultant and Secretary of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative, Group Capt. John Ojikutu, said concerns about the prolonged delay in the establishment of a national carrier were justifiable.
He said, “The issue of national carrier started even before the current minister came into office. It actually started with the Nigerian Airways which we virtually killed. We killed it because we turned the national carrier to government carrier.
“So I’ve been saying that the way the minister is handling this now might turn the national carrier into a government carrier again and it will die the way Nigerian Airways died. It can even die prematurely.
“I advised the minister that for you to set up a national carrier fast enough, everybody’s hands must be in it. We need a technical partner. Emirates is being run by a British, the CEO is a Briton. We need a technical partner and technical investor.”
Ojikutu stressed that to halt the prolonged delay, the technical partner and technical investor should not have more than 40 per cent stake in the proposed airline.
“Then Nigerian creditors, those who are credit-worthy and can manage money properly such as Dangote, Soludo and others who know how to manage money, should put in their money in it,” he stated.
Ojukutu added, “Nigerian investors who are credible with money can take 10 per cent, while the federal and state governments can take 10 per cent and the remaining should be given to the Nigerian public.
“That is when you will have a true national carrier and the government will not be able to handle it the way it managed the defunct Nigerian Airways. If this is done, within three to six months the national carrier will be established and this delay will cease.”
But an aviation sector analyst and member of the renowned Aviation Round Table, Olumide Ohunayo, kicked against the continued push by the government to establish a national carrier.
He said, “I’m trying to understand why the government should proceed with the national carrier project. If you look at what has happened during this period of COVID-19, we have had more applications and three or four airlines are already coming onboard.
“And about 25 others are processing their applications. Again, AMCON, an agency of government that is handling Aero and Arik, has decided to start a new carrier. Probably they are going to shut the two for the new carrier to have some life.”
He added, “So if a government agency is having a carrier, why will the Federal Government again have another carrier? I don’t think we should proceed with it. The Federal Executive Council in their wisdom had in the past asked that everything should be put on hold.”
He expressed concern that billions of naira were being mapped out for an airline that had not yet come into existence, whereas many carriers currently in operation were struggling to survive.
Ohunayo urged the government to channel the funds being mapped out for the national carrier to improve infrastructure at airports.