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Infighting Threatens Planned National Carrier

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Nigeria’s hope of having a new national carrier anytime soon may be dashed as LEADERSHIP Weekend investigations have shown that internal scuffle between the planning team is threatening the whole process.

It was gathered that there is no clear-cut decision on whether or not to establish a national carrier at the moment.

Findings show that since last year, the minister of state for aviation had always said the “national carrier will commence soon,” however, some experts’ projections show that the commencement of the national carrier will take time since there are no aircraft  and no personnel on ground for the commencement of the national carrier.

LEADERSHIP Weekend reports that while addressing journalists in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, recently, the minister of state for aviation, Hadi Sirika, had said Nigeria would soon have a privately-owned national carrier.

Sirika spoke at the sidelines of the 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU).

He said the government would provide an “enabling environment and support”, and would take advantage of the Single Air Transport Market launched by the African Union.

He said apart from Nigerian entrepreneurs, the African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the Chinese Exim Bank, as well as countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Rwanda, Namibia and Niger Republic, would participate in the initiative.

“We are very close to having a national carrier at the moment. We are at the stage of transaction services. We have affiliations, which will be dealt with. I hope, within this week, you will hear from me on where we are. It will be soon,” he said.

Sirika added that he had been holding discussions with several bodies regarding the establishment of a national carrier for Nigeria and that once everything is concluded “the prices of tickets and the efficiency of service will be much better”.

However, while speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend, a worker at the ministry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in as much as there are plans to kick-start the national carrier, internal scuffle on the basis of appointment is threatening to delay the project.

According to our source, after appointing a foreign transaction adviser, the Nigeria government also appointed Nigerian team to work with him.

This appointment, our source noted, did not go down well with the foreign adviser, who insisted on appointing his team from Nigeria by himself and threatened to withdraw his services if government did not yield to his demand.

Our source further noted that this situation stalled all plans for the national carrier for now, and except one side agrees to shift ground, plans for a national carrier coming into being soon are under threat.

LEADERSHIP Weekend recalls that this was what played out in January 2017 when the minister promised that Nigeria will have a viable national airline before the end of 2017.

Sirika said the project would be private-sector driven and that the federal government may only own three percent of the airline, a promise yet to be fulfilled.

On the aircraft proposed, the federal government had said that two major internationally renowned aircraft manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, had indicated interest in Nigeria’s national carrier.

Sirika explained that the manufacturers had expressed willingness to discuss their interest with the government.

In a tweet on his Twitter handle, @hadisirika, the minister said, “Boeing said they can’t wait to discuss their proposal for the Nigerian national carrier).”

In another tweet, he stated, “Airbus signified interest in our national carrier and our MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul). Will discuss further during the upcoming ICAO forum.”

Meanwhile, as the plan to commence a national carrier in the country by the federal government gathers momentum, stakeholders in the nation’s aviation sector have urged the authorities to thread with caution so that the new plan would be successful at the end of the day.

Foremost aviator and president of  Aviation Safety Roundtable Initiative (ASRTI) , Mr Gbenga Olowo, has equally prescribed necessary and sufficient conditions for efficient and reliable flag carriers which, he advised, may not necessarily be named national carrier.

In a chat with LEADERSHIP Weekend yesterday, Olowo stated that a sizeable aircraft fleet that would guarantee undisrupted schedule and maintenance of airport slot was required by Nigeria, along with a minimum fleet of 20 at a growth rate of five per annum in the first five years.

Olowo pointed out that South African Airways, a much smaller country, parades a fleet of 52 aircraft and warned that if the authorities were not ready to provide the needful, the carrier should not commence International operations in order not disgrace the flag.

The aviation expert stated that for the proposal to work effectively, there is also urgent need for good liquidity that would guarantee payment of bills when due.

He advocated membership of IATA, Global Distribution System and so on that would shore up credibility and international best practices.

According to him, also important to the success of the flag carrier is the deployment of technology to save cost, prevent wastages and enhance efficient service delivery all the time.

Speaking on the national carrier, a member of the national carrier committee and former president of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), Comrade Isaac Balami, said that government’s intention of running a privately owned national carrier was a welcome development.

Balami disclosed that his committee looked at three or four different reports in the past to come up with new recommendations.

He said, “The government doesn’t need to have a maximum of 10 percent or even five percent in it. However, government presence is very important because it is key to the success of the national carrier. To achieve this one, an important government official such as the minister of aviation or a director in the aviation agencies should be made to represent the federal government on the board of the national carrier.”

The committee member also pointed out that for a successful national carrier, care should be taken to ensure adequate provision of support services like aviation fuel, training, world-class catering services, aircraft maintenance and others.

Bulama said his committee was “looking at adopting the Singapore Airline (model) because it is the world’s most profitable airline in the world.

“It is an airline that makes over $1 million net profit daily. We also studied Qantas Airline which is the world’s safest airline”.

He, however, expressed worry that with the harsh operating environment in Nigeria, if an airline is given 20 brand new aircraft with $10 million capital, there is likelihood that the airline could collapse 10 years after just like Arik and others.

But the secretary-general of the Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP), Comrade Abdul Rasaq Saidu, does not see any seriousness on the part of the government in terms of establishing the national carrier.

According to Saidu, if the government was serious about the establishment of a national carrier, the issue would have been at the front burner during the last Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting instead of airport concessioning.

“President Buhari wants the national carrier but it looks as if the aviation ministry is not pushing hard enough. At the moment, there is no clear-cut decision on the issue because it was not mentioned in the last FEC meeting. I don’t think they are serious with the national carrier. I have not seen anything visible to show they are serious”, he said.

Before now, members of Aviation Safety Roundtable Initiative (ASRTI) had urged the federal government to initiate a new national carrier plan that is 100 per cent private sector-driven and funded. According to them, having such a project premised on government’s funding, like the Nigerian Airways of old, is a recipe for another failure.

ASRTI, which is the think-tank group of the industry, aligns with the government’s initiative to revive the national carrier on the condition that it is independent of bureaucracy and unresolved issues of the defunct Nigerian Airways.

LEADERSHIP Weekend recalls that the current administration last year revealed a master plan for aviation, with priority given to airport concessioning and revival of national carrier among others.

Earlier this week, aviation minister, Hadi Sirika, had re-emphasised that Nigeria would get a national carrier soon in order to take full advantage of the newly launched single African air transport market.

Speaking on the sidelines of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, following the launch of the new regional aviation initiative, the  minister said that the national carrier would  be private sector driven.

But this is not the first time the minister would be making such promises.

Early last year, Sirika had equally said that federal government would ensure that the establishment of a national carrier takes place before the end of 2017.

And to speed up the national carrier establishment, the government had few years ago  appointed advisers to help it set up a national airline and develop its aviation infrastructure – currently seen as a barrier to economic growth – to create a hub for West Africa.

Sirika said a group of six firms including German carrier Lufthansa would advise the government on setting up an airline, an aviation leasing company and a maintenance hanger, and on creating concessions to run the country’s airports.

A cabinet meeting chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had approved N1.52 billion ($4.99 million) of funding for the project, he added.

Stakeholders say they hope the government matches word with action this time around.



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