By Chinelo Obogo
Three years after the Federal Government announced its plan to establish a new national carrier, Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, a fortnight ago, announced that the proposed carrier will begin operations in April 2022.
Sirika told National Assembly correspondents at the end of a recent virtual Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by the President Muhammadu Buhari, that the Federal Government would own not more than five per cent equity stake in the new airline expected to create 70,000 jobs on takeoff. He said Nigerian investors will own 46 per cent shares while international strategic partners will own 49 per cent stake with the Outline Business Case already approved by the FEC.
“The structure of the proposed airline will be that the government will own not more than 5 per cent. So, 5 per cent is the maximum equity that the government will take, then 46 per cent will be owned by Nigerian entrepreneurs. So, if you add that, it’s 51 per cent,” he said.
He also revealed that discussions with prospective investors had been ongoing and that Request for Proposals would be sent out. Responding to how the 46 per cent stake to be owned by Nigerians would be acquired, he said, “It will be purchased exactly the way you buy shares in every company. This is because Nigeria Air is a limited liability company for now, registered under the law of the land and structured in a PPP (public private partnership) manner. So you purchase it the same way you purchase shares in any company and later it is our hope that it will be listed and go through IPO (Initial Public Offering) and so on.”
The minister explained that the airline would start operations with three wet-leased aircraft and then continue to expand, place orders and then get deliveries. He assured that the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul facility for the carrier and others would begin in Abuja next year and that partners for the MRO had been approached and once approved by the Federal Executive Council, work would start in April 2022.
However, aviation experts have cast doubts on the minister’s promises and plans for a carrier. The Chief Operating Officer of Tropical Arctic Logistics (TAL) helicopters, Femi Adeniji, told Daily Sun that he believes the rush to start a national carrier only serves the minister’s personal interests as there are still many unanswered questions.
“The national carrier is dead on arrival if the minister wants to be sincere with himself and the country. I see this project as personal interest for his political ambition and not national interest. How do you operate or dictate operation with five percent shares? Who is fooling who?
“Although, the Minister could instruct the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to issue Nigeria Air an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) without meeting the prerequisite of having an AOC which procedure we know is cumbersome with NCAA, where is the infrastructure such as offices? Where are the post holders? The documents? Would it be copy and paste as usual by the NCAA inspectors? If all these are provided, where are the workers and facilities put on ground to make anyone believe that the national carrier would be birthed as proposed?” he queried.
Also commenting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of WestLink Airlines, Captain Ibrahim Mshelia, told reporters that it is impossible for a new airline with three aircraft to employ 70,000 people questioning how a Nigeria Air will get its Air Operators Certificate within five months when it takes other airlines as much as two years to get theirs.
“Even before the COVID-19 hit, British Airways had 42, 000 staff all over the world, KLM which has existed for about 100 years have just about 100,000 employees and then if you come down to Africa, Kenyan Airways has just less than 5000, Etihad, the state airline for the Middle East has less than 13,000 staff. How on earth will an airline that is a dream away employ 70,000 people?
“How do you want to start an airline that has not been registered? We don’t even know who the shareholders will be, we only know that Nigeria will have no more than 5 per cent.
He has not told Nigerians or sector operators who these shareholders will be, which means he is doing it in absolute secrecy and this indicates that he is not setting up an airline for Nigeria, but for himself and he has no right to do that using Nigeria’s money or leveraging Nigerian government.