Uche Usim, Abuja
Despite repeated assurances from the Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika, on the December take off of the new national carrier, Nigeria Air, the Federal Executive Council on Wednesday suspended the project indefinitely to the shock of the aviation community and Nigerians in general.
Announcing the suspension via his twitter handle, @hadisirika, the Minister did not give details as to why the mega project, for which $8.8 million was earmarked for its pre-take off expenses, was abruptly suspended. He, however, assured that all commitments made so far will be honoured.
Sirika said: “I regret to announce that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has taken the tough decision to suspend the national carrier project in the interim. All commitments due will be honoured. We thank the public for the support as always,” he said on the tweet.
Daily Sun learnt that investors were totally uncomfortable channeling their funds into the national carrier project that will kick off few months to a presidential election that has already generated political tension locally and internationally. Expectedly, the suspension has elicited reactions from aviation experts and industry stakeholders.
Commenting on the suspension, the Managing Director of Top Brass Aviation and former Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Roland Iyayi, said the Federal Government has probably realised that the timing of such a gigantic project was wrong in view of the nation’s political climate.
“They have realised that the timing is wrong because they are unlikely going to get the right investors for the project.
Investors know Nigeria is preparing for a general election early next year and the national carrier was expected to take off in December. These investors want to know who will be on the saddle as the President and all that.
“Again, so much money has been expended so far on the project. $8.8 million was earmarked for pre-operational expenses for investor roadshow and others. Before we can even talk of continuing the national carrier project in future, we should look at where the local operators are.
“I’m aware Air Peace made an order for 10 new B737-Max airplanes. They already have three B777s for regional and international operations. They have 27 aircraft so far on their fleet.
FG can look at designating such an airline as a major flag carrier to fly some of these destinations on behalf of the Federal Government, rather than using taxpayers’ money shopping for investors,” Iyayi explained.
In his views, Mr. Yemi Dada, the former Managing Director of IRS Airlines said, “the government has taken a wise decision to suspend the project.
We are not privy to the initial motivation neither are we in the know of the reasons for the suspension but it is a welcome development.
The government should focus on the infrastructure deficiencies and the airport privatisation initiative. Private operators are doing as good a job as they can with the tools they have.
Taking a look at what Ghana has done with the new terminal at the Kotoka International Airport, we should know that if we do not get serious quickly our attempt to be the hub of the region will be further delayed.
It cannot be denied because of our share of the aviation business, but we must be serious and stamp out claim on the region as the giant and the natural gateway.”
The Minister of State, Aviation, Sirika, in July, performed the unveiling of Nigeria Air at a press conference at the Farnborough Air Show in London, United Kingdom.
He had said government would not hold shares beyond 5 per cent at the topmost; even he failed to disclose those that will own the remaining 95 per cent.
“Government will come up with funding according to the business case that has been delivered to the government. We will engage the youths of Nigeria because we do believe in the ‘Not Too Young to Run’.”
The unveiling was attended by a cross-section of the international press, Nigerian dignitaries, stakeholders, aircraft manufacturers, prospective investors and a Nigerian government delegation, including Mr. Sule Zakari,
Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transportation; Senator Adamu Aliero, Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation; and Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, Chairperson, House Committee on Aviation. A short film, showing an aircraft with the new Nigeria Air livery was also unveiled at the roadshow.
Sirika stated that the Federal Government has selected 81 routes for the commencement of operation of Nigeria Air.
For a start, the airline was to operate 40 domestic, regional and sub-regional and 41 international routes.
He added that the airline would operate on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, while investors and strategic partners would decide who would run it.