AN AIRCRAFT, branded Nigeria Air, is reported to have been sighted at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, Ethiopia, and is expected to head to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, Nigeria, today Friday, May 26.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had on Thursday, May 25 disclosed that the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s resolve to birth a new national air carrier had finally come to fruition and an aircraft to that effect would be arriving in Nigeria today.
The ‘Nigeria Air’ branded aircraft is believed to be one of the three Boeing 737-800 that Sirika said the carrier would be commencing operations with.
The other two aeroplanes are expected in Nigeria latest next week.
“Before the end of this administration, before May 29, we will fly,” the aviation minister had said, adding that the aircraft would be unveiled in Nigeria’s colours.
Amid Sirika’s enthusiasm is a litigation challenging the Federal government’s technical partnership with Ethiopian Airline.
The Federal government had in September 2022 announced Ethiopian Airline as the preferred bidder for the technical partnership on Nigeria Air. In the stakeholding arrangement on the new national carrier, Ethiopian Airline has a majority controlling stake of 49 per cent, Nigerian investors (comprising MRS, SAHCO and the Nigerian Sovereign Fund) 46 per cent, and the Federal government 5 per cent.
Sirika said Ethiopian Airline emerged the preferred bidder because it performed best in the technical and financial bids.
Domestic operators under the aegis of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) have, however, faulted the outgoing minister’s intention to launch the operations of Nigeria Air, citing a restraining court order.
The AON members had, through their lawyers, written a letter to the President, Muhammadu Buhari to stop the minister’s attempt to circumvent the court order, today being the last working day of his administration.
The local airlines lamented that Sirika chose his last working day in the office to bring in two aircraft in contravention of the court order on the project.
Some stakeholders in the aviation sector are concerned about the last-minute rush by the minister to bring in the aircraft.
An aviation industry analyst, Simon Tumba, expressed, in a chat with The ICIR, his misgivings on the Federal government’s choice of the technical partner for Nigeria Air, saying, “Ethiopia is a natural competitor to Nigeria, so there is a conflict of interest.”
Tumba argued that the aviation minister had seven and half years to plan and execute the project, “but he has failed woefully.”
He said, “Even if he manages to get an aircraft to demonstrate any launch operation before May 29, it’s still a failure.”
Tumba said he would rather prefer a flag carrier than a national carrier.
“Nigeria has never demonstrated the ability to run a successful government commercial enterprise since Independence due to corruption. The demise of Nigeria Airways was largely due to corruption, hence I don’t support the government’s involvement in a commercial enterprise,” he maintained.
An aviation expert and analyst, Ado Sanusi, said today on Channels TV Sunrise Daily that it would be practically impossible for the airline to take off in the next two days, as resolved by Sirika.
According to Sanusi, it would be one thing to bring the aeroplane to the country, but it would be another to get the airline itself practically operational, especially as regards all the necessary approvals from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
Sanusi, who is the chief executive officer of Aero Contractors, explained the take-off would not be possible because the airline’s aircraft would have to do the compulsory demonstration flights and would need to complete all five phases.
He pointed out that the international community would be watching Nigeria to know if it would be following what the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has stipulated in its recommended practices and laid-down procedures for the commercial carriage of passengers internationally.
“So I don’t think that the Director-General, who had once worked in the ICAO, would flout those rules,” he added.
Nigeria has been without a national carrier since the collapse of Nigeria Airways, despite several failed attempts to float one.