Three weeks to the proposed take off of the national carrier, Nigeria Air, there is uncertainty in the aviation industry with stakeholders expressing mixed feelings over the feasibility of the project.
Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, had promised that the earlier rested national carrier will now commence operations by April 2022.
He spoke in November, last year, after a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, disclosing that the airline would create 70,000 jobs.
According to him, while the government would hold five per cent, 46 per cent would go to Nigerian entrepreneurs while the remaining 49 per cent would be reserved for strategic equity partners including foreign investors.
He had said, “This airline, if started and within the first few years will generate about 70,000 jobs. These 70,000 jobs are higher than the total number of civil servants that we have in the country. Its importance had been well discussed so, I’ll not go back to it. You had discussed it separately also on various fora as to the need for it.”
The minister was particularly emphatic on the April timeline after several missed targets since July 2018 when the name, logo and livery of Nigeria Air were unveiled in Farnborough, United Kingdom.
Naija Feel reports since 2018 when Nigeria Air was unveiled, three different airlines have commenced operation including Ibom Air, which started operation June 7, 2019; United Nigeria (February 2, 2021) and Green Africa. Also another airline, Xejet, recently got its Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC).
Also, it would be recalled that the federal government said last year that it expects private investors to raise $250m for the proposed carrier.
However, as the government races against the time, it would on Tuesday open a bid for intending investors on the national carrier project.
This is just as a source in the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) confirmed to our correspondent at the weekend that the process of issuance of the Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) for Nigeria Air has commenced.
But while efforts are ongoing to bring back Nigeria Air, the NG Eagles, another federal government-owned airline being championed by the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) has been stalled over what sources called “complicated crisis” surrounding the new carrier.
It would be recalled that there was a petition by some aviation unions to the National Assembly kicking against AOC for NG Eagles created from the vestiges of Arik Air taken over by AMCON.
NG Eagles had converted at least two of Arik Air planes to NG Eagles preparatory to the commencement of operations but up till now, the AOC has not been issued.
But the highly placed source who confirmed the commencement of the AOC process for Nigeria Air did not however state when the process started and the time it would be completed.
Normally, the AOC, which involves five different rigorous stages could take more than two years depending on the availability of relevant documents and completion of the relevant paper works.
Many stakeholders are anxious as to the magic the government hopes to perform in securing the AOC for the take-off of the national carrier, warning that any attempt at waiving some aspects of this would not augur well for the industry.
“It is true that the process has actually started to get the AOC for the new national carrier. I can confirm that you and I hope every Nigerian would join the minister in making this happen,” the source said, pleading not to be named as he was not authorised to speak on the issue.
But beyond the AOC, other experts said they were waiting to see the magic to be performed by the government when it is not on record that the Air Transport License (ATL), which precedes the AOC has been obtained.
In addition, the proposed airline needs to have at least two aircraft to conduct demonstration flights across the country in addition to having in place a Board of Directors, recruitment of technical staff to at least man the proposed airline.
An airline operator who spoke with our correspondent on the condition of anonymity said, “We need to ask ourselves what is the total number of civil servants? For the past 13 years, there has not been any national carrier.
“Now, private people spent over $13bn of their money and the government didn’t pay. So why are you going to create another one when the private people are helping you by spending over $13bn of their money. Now there are about 28 foreign airlines coming out of Nigeria, already we have been covered. If you say it is capital flight, now you are going to start your own capital flight because you are going to buy planes. And if you are going to lease, you are going to lease newer planes.”
The operator said establishing an airline should not be the priority of the government in the face of competing demands.
He however said if the government insists on going ahead with the national carrier, the process must be followed to the letter.
“Do you know some airlines spent three years pursuing AOC? Arik Air did demonstration flights to as far as New York, Paris. If the government decides to waive some of these things, then we will protest. You need the paperwork, you have to get a number of staff, a number of planes, demonstration flights,” he said.
The minister had said last that by April, “We should be able to have our AOC ready, which means, we are ready to start.”