Regional carrier may replace Nigeria Airways


By Omodele Adigun

AS committee on the establishment of new national carrier continues with its assignment, speculations are rife that a Lagos-based regional carrier may be tipped to replace the defunct Nigeria Airways.

The airline was said to have been incorporated in the 90s with an initial share capital of N20million, the equivalent of $250,000, out of the $25million budgeted for its takeoff before Nigeria pulled out unceremoniously due to, what our source described as, “the ulterior motive in conflict with national interest of the then president”.

The absence of national flag carriers, or strong designated Nigerian carriers, has been blamed for the gross marginalisation of the nation’s aviation sector by some powerful regional airlines. For instance, it is alleged that none of the domestic airlines can operate with a clout of flag carrier in the global arena, where high-wired aeropolitics is the order of the day, particularly in competing with international airlines currently dominating the scene.

That may be the reason, since President Buhari directed that a new national carrier be established as a successor to the liquidated Airways, the aviation industry has engaged in verbal sniping as stakeholders battle one another in hot air, either arguing for or against the proposal.

For instance, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd), an aviation security expert, in a Good Morning Nigeria show aired by the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) recently, stoutly rose against the coming of another national carrier, saying that all the Buhari administration needs do was to license two or three flag carriers to stimulate healthy rivalry in the industry.

One of them, according to another discussant, Captain Roland Iyayi, one time Managing Director of Nigeria Airspace Management Authority(NAMA), should emerge from the consolidation of the five airlines currently owing Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) a whopping N300billion in tax payers’ money. He opined that the Federal Government should recall its $1.2billion worth of credit, merge the airlines and take a step further by going into partnership with business-minded stakeholders from any part of the world, particularly from the Middle East, to make the venture lucrative.

He added: “We need national carrier. Whatever the objectives the government wants to achieve with national carrier, it should have structure to support it. The Federal Government needs not invest a dime, but it can midwife it; allow Nigerians to take ownership through the capital market. Government should provide an enabling environment to grow the industry”.

Mr Chris Aligbe, also a participant at the programme, the bane of national carrier is the notion of owner-manager, which breeds corruption. According to this former spokesman of Nigeria Airways, rather than going for 100 per cent ownership, the Federal Government should convert its seed capital into equity, which should not be more than 20 per cent. Apart from that, he advised that government should create an enabling environment to make it easier for the flag carrier to obtain a soft loan or credit facility with low digit interest rate; allocate land to the airline and engage the services of professional to run the outfit. He warned that the nation does not have the local capacity to manage a national carrier.

Hear him: “We don’t have the competence; the engineers are all gone; the pilots trained by the defunct Nigeria Airways have all become old: 69 years; 70 years old. We need technical partners that should come and assist us. For instance, when the South Africa Airways faced similar problem, to help revitalize it, the government hired five Americans to run it for some time before handing it over to the indigenes. We can copy from this. The government can reserve 20 per cent equity for the foreign airline that comes into the picture.”

The new carrier

In fact, coming into the picture as the most viable flag carrier for nation may be the single airline project designated for the entire West African sub-region , a project ditched by the nation some years back.

According to a source close to aviation ministry, private sector group, with the support of Ecowas Secretariat, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Africa Business Roundtable (ABR) had then come together to float a West Africa Airline Company called ECOAIR to fulfil Yamousoukro Declaration, which outlined steps towards the establishment of an integrated transport market, particularly, in the air transport sector.

“The comity of heads of states, in line with the Yamoussoukro Declaration of which the different government within the sub-region are signatories to, the Ecowas member states concluded among themselves that a multilateral air transport agreement establishing a single air space within the community should come into force.

“ECOAIR has already been incorporated with an initial share capital of N20million, the equivalent of $250,000, for the promotion of the project, out of the $25million of the airline before Nigeria pulled out as a result of “the ulterior motive, in conflict with national interest , of the then president”, the source said.

What may have endeared the present administration to the project was said to be the dedicated and well designed plan to make Nigeria the hub of ECOWAS as well as the centre point for the African air transport industry, just like Dubai.

Iyayi alluded to this when he said the United Arab Emirate came out with a blitzing advert: ‘Dubai is in the middle of everywhere’. “That is how every airline goes there. It is a strategic regional hub. It develops new airport to accommodate 30 to 40 million passengers per annum,” he stated.

This was said to be the model envisioned by the promoters of the airline. For instance, Lagos is said to be six hours by air from Johannesburg. South Africa; four and a half hours away from Nairobi, Kenya, as well as Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa and Egypt’s Cairo, while it takes three hours from Dakar, Senegal. Beside this, Nigeria is believed to be endowed with the largest traveling population in Africa.

Source : SunOnline

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