By Louis Iba with agency report
The Federal Government has appointed advisers to help it set up a national airline and develop infrastructures in the aviation industry to meet a national aspiration of creating a hub within the West African sub-region, says Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika.
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, as well as create concessions to run the country’s airports.
A cabinet meeting on Wednesday chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, had approved N1.52 billion ($4.99 million) of funding for the project, Sirika added.
The Nigerian aviation industry in the last 10 years has been plagued by a myriad of problems, which has hampered its ability to contribute to national growth and prosperity. At present, and owing to the absence of a functional national carrier and viable domestic airlines, Nigeria is unable to effectively reciprocate the many Bilateral Air service Agreements (BASA) it signed with about 88 countries, a trend that has resulted in massive capital flight and job losses as foreign carriers continue to rake in millions of dollars out of the country yearly. With scarcity of forex hitting hard on businesses in the country, the absence of a maintenance hanger has also seen local airlines continuously spending millions of dollars outside the country for routine maintenances of airlines offshore.
Industry experts say they would gladly welcome the Buhari government’s move to float a new national carrier and maintenance hanger since it would stem the regime of capital flight out of the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari, had promised a national airline when campaigning for election in 2014. The government set up a committee on establishing a national airline in 2015, in fulfillment of the campaign promises, which brought Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC) to power.
An APC transition paper seen by Reuters in 2015 had proposed merging a dozen debt-laden airlines on the books of state-owned “bad bank” AMCON into a single carrier that would partner with a global airline to serve the West and Central African region.
The single carrier would include Nigeria’s biggest airline, Arik Air, which AMCON took over in February. The Buhari’s government has also said it plans to concession four of the nation’s international airports sited in Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and Abuja to private firms in a bid to ensure proper management and profitability of the assets.
AMCON has said it has no plans to convert Arik into a national carrier and that the government has no interest in doing so other than to ensure that the airline continues to fly.