Nigeria’s new carrier, the Nigeria Air, will commence operations after years of attempts to float a national brand after the collapse of the Nigeria Airways 20 years ago.
“The new carrier which [will] commence local and international flights before May 2023, is a product of partnership with the Ethiopia Airways,” Nigeria’s Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika said on Thursday at the ongoing National Aviation Stakeholders Forum 2023 in Abuja.
Sirika has been working to revive the country’s carrier for almost eight years.
“Local and international flights will commence soon by May 29. Negotiations between the Ethiopian Airlines Group Consortium and the Nigerian government are ongoing. The next step is for the country’s Federal Executive Council to approve of the full business case,” Sirika said.
He said the airline would ensure the reduction in capital flight from Nigeria, maximize benefits of Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) and Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) as well as develop the aviation hub.
“The national carrier will contribute to Nigeria’s gross domestic product, grow hospitality and tourism industry, promote agricultural sector as well as create more jobs,” he explained.
The Nigeria Air concept was unveiled at the Farnborough Air Show in England on July 18, 2018 but had not materialised because of the controversy over the modalities for its establishment, including working capital.
Nigeria Airways collapsed 20 years ago after it was rebranded in 1971 due to the dissolution of West African Airways Corporation which was founded in 1958. The airline was closed in 2003 due to large-scale corruption and lack of funds.
With 23 active airlines, 554 licensed pilots, 913 licensed engineers and 1,700 cabin personnel, Nigeria resolved through its Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (Amcon) to float another national airline to join the competition regardless of the efforts of the aviation ministry.
Thorny path for Nigeria Air
It has been a thorny path for Nigeria Air as many Nigerians opposed it, with some stakeholders in the country’s aviation industry going to court to stall its emergence.
Fearing they could lose dominance of the air space, some Nigerian local airlines have sued the government seeking to stop the new national carrier arguing it would get unfair advantages.
According to authorities, the Nigerian government will retain a five percent stake in the new airline while Ethiopian Airlines will have a 49 percent stake and 46 percent of the airline would be owned by Nigerian investors.
The Nigerian government anticipates raising $250 million from the private sector.
Some critics also said that instead of giving Ethiopian Airlines a 49 percent stake, there could have been better partnership arrangement that would benefit Nigeria more.
Assistant General Secretary of Nigeria’s Aviation Round Table Olumide Ohunayo said that though Ethiopian Airlines has been a successful carrier in Africa, its partner carriers on the continent such as Congo Airways, Tchadia Airlines and Zambia Airways have all failed except Asky Airline, which just upped its fleet of aircraft to about 12.
Nigeria’s High Court in November 2022 granted an interim order restraining the country’s government from proceeding with the establishment of the national carrier. However, the government defied the restraining order and continued with the venture.
Only airline to respond
Despite the criticisms, Sirika explained that Ethiopian Airlines was the only airline that responded to its requests for expression of interest and fulfilled all the stipulated conditions laid down by Nigeria.
He said other global airlines rejected Nigeria’s call to join hands in floating her national carrier despite the fact that he met with them at several air shows and international aviation forums.
He, however, said that the Ethiopian Airlines proved that it is efficient and prosperous by registering over $1 billion profit after tax even in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The choice of Ethiopian Airlines is good for Nigeria and it is in line with the African Union (AU) agenda. Our desire is for Africa to come together and lead the continent’s aviation market through our new partnership. The partnership will also reduce operational costs and airfares for Nigerians as well as African air travellers as opposed to the current situation,” Sirika said.
“Contrary to what people think, let it be known that Ethiopian Airlines emerged as the preferred partner of Nigeria Air through a transparent and credible process that cannot be faulted because we want the project to succeed so that our country can have an airline that does not suffer the fate of the former Nigeria Airways,” he added.