By Kunle Bankole
Nigerians woke up to the news of the unveiling of Nigeria Air on Friday, 26th May, 2023. The Federal government of Nigeria has been on this national carrier project for a long time, so it is good to see that finally, the project is at this present stage.
From what the former Minister of Aviation (Hadi Sirika) under former President Muhammadu Buhari
said, Ethiopian Airlines, following competitive bid were selected as the preferred technical partners. He also said that unlike the arrangement of the past, under the defunct Nigeria Airways and Air Nigeria, Nigeria Air will be fully private sector – driven. Ethiopian Airline Consortium has 49% shareholding in the joint venture, Nigerian Institutional investors have 46% while the Federal Government of Nigeria has 5% shareholding in the new National Carrier.
Obviously, it is in our national economic and strategic interest to have a national carrier. The benefits are many. For example, several jobs will be created. There will be job roles for pilots, engineers, flight attendants, office staff such as accountants, Human Resources personnel and so on. Support services including caterers and cleaners etc will also be required. Nigeria can earn foreign exchange from people buying tickets in foreign currencies as the airline will operate both domestic and international routes. Foreign investors will come in, and Nigeria will be able to fully utilize its many airports. Many of them are underutilized at the moment. Nigeria Air will fly to those destinations following viable economic models. There will be increased training for airlines staff, and the establishment of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities in Nigeria.
We all know what airline passengers are suffering at the moment in the hands of airline operators. Incessant flight delays and cancellations, poor services and high ticket costs. Nigeria Air will lead to increased competition in Nigeria’s aviation industry and it is the passengers that will be the ultimate beneficiaries. There will be more choices for air passengers. With the setting up of Nigeria Air, Nigeria will also be able to fully utilize the Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) it has signed with other countries.
Perhaps, it is as result of fear of competition that some operators under the aegis of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) have been battling the setting up of Nigeria Air. What have they to lose if not that they want to maintain the status quo and keep on depriving Nigerian air travelers of good services?
Are members of AON more patriotic and intelligent than officials of the federal government including the Ministry of Aviation, Federal Executive Council, FAAN and other stakeholders that have diligently pursued the setting up of Nigeria Air?
It’s surprising that on the same day that the unveiling of Nigeria Air took place, Mr Obiora Okonkwo, Chairman of United Nigeria Airways was on national television de-marketing Nigeria Air on behalf of AON. He knew the truth and chose to lie on national television just for selfish economic reasons. It is only in Nigeria that non-patriots like Mr Okonkwo will walk around castigating the federal government and sabotaging its efforts, in this case, the setting up of Nigeria Air.
According to reports, Nigeria Air will begin full flight operations by third quarter of 2023. What happened on the 26th of May 2023 was only an unveil. It was done in collaboration with Ethiopian Airlines, the winning technical partner to the project. Members of AON wonder why Ethiopian Airlines should be selected as the preferred partner, but chose to be blind to the open and transparent process that led to their selection in line with international best practices, and along the guidelines of Nigeria’s Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC)
A simple google search would have shown Mr Okonkwo and his AON colleagues that Ethiopian Airlines has over 77 years of successful global airline experience. They are the largest carrier in Africa and rank amongst the 30 largest airlines in the world. Ethiopian Airlines earned $6 billion in revenue, and about $1 billion in profits in 2022 alone. They have over 140 modern aircrafts in their fleet and have been operating successfully in Nigeria since independence. That’s good pedigree.
While we do not like to hear about negative incidents in our aviation sector since a sustainable ecosystem is what we all desire, Mr Obiora Okonkwo should better devote his time to managing his United Nigeria Airways and running it as a safe and reliable carrier. Just on the morning of Thursday, 1st of June 2023, Nigeria’s major news channels reported that a United Nigeria Airlines Embraer 145 flight with 50 passengers on Wednesday, 31st of May, 2023, skidded off runway 18L at Murtala Mohammed Airport terminal 2 in Lagos. The aircraft flew in from Chuba Okadigbo airport in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, when the incident happened. Investigators are already looking into this incident.
United Nigeria Airways which also flies the Anambra Airport route has also not done much on that route. It is still flying its small jets on that route. It was cringeworthy watching Mr Okonkwo on national television praising his colleague Allen Onyema of Airpeace and talking about the number of aircraft Airpeace planned to bring in later in the year. He struggled to sell Nigerians a dummy that Airpeace should have gotten the technical partnership with Nigeria Air. Mr Okonkwo should have been talking about the aircraft United Nigeria Airways planned to bring in. Airpeace is not United Nigeria and he should stop hiding under AON to wage a proxy war against Nigeria Air, and indirectly against the federal government of Nigeria. Such shameless and ignoble blackmail will not work. Nigerians are wiser. Nigeria Air has come to stay and will fly Nigeria’s flag to near and distant destinations. This should be a source of pride for us all.
* Bankole is an Aviation enthusiast.