The Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, recently disclosed that the Federal Government has concluded plans to appoint a technical adviser for the proposed national carrier for the country.
The minister told journalists at the end of the Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja that once the issue of the national carrier is resolved, Nigerians would no longer be at the mercy of foreign airlines as it would bring airfares down. The new national carrier is expected to take off next year.
Sirika also explained that unlike in the past when the Federal Government wholly owned the Nigeria Airways, the planned new national carrier would be run by the private sector with government owning only a paltry five per cent stake. This is not the first time a Nigerian government will moot the idea of having a national airline since the liquidation of the defunct Nigeria Airways some years ago.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan made such moves but nothing concrete was done to realize it. The plan has been given a boost since the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari. The new government has spoken with passion on the need to put in place a national carrier. What remains now is for the government to bring its plans to fruition.
It is good and desirable to have a national airline in the country. It should, indeed, be considered shameful that we do not have one at present. Unfortunately, past efforts to resuscitate the defunct Nigeria Airways by past administrations could not work.
Apart from engendering national pride, a thriving national airline will create jobs and partake in the lucrative African aviation sector. Nigeria used to play a leading role in African aviation industry but it appears other less-endowed African countries have overtaken us. We believe that a strong Nigerian national airline can compete globally as well. We have done it before and we can still do it again.
Therefore, the plan to appoint a technical adviser on the project shows that government wants to get the best out of it. However, we advise that government should do a lot of homework and consider the pros and cons of such venture at this point in time. Government can also study other models that have worked for other countries as well.
Government should also examine why the once thriving Nigeria Airways collapsed despite having many aircraft in its fleet. This has become necessary so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. Government should make sure that the plan pulls through this time around.
Good enough, the government has explained that the new carrier will be private sector-driven unlike the defunct Nigeria Airways. This means that the new carrier will be owned by Nigerians. That is why government’s intention to have only a five per cent stake in the new airline is commendable.
But, it is worth pointing out that part of the reasons the Nigeria Airways failed is simply because it was not run as a business concern. It was highly mismanaged. The airline relied heavily on government subventions and patronage. For the new national carrier to succeed, it must be run like a business.
However, the government must be reminded that this is a capital intensive project. And coming in a season of recession can prove a daunting task. Mobilisation of the needed funds may prove difficult.
Beyond floating the national airline, government must ensure that the nation’s aviation sector is made to thrive. Right now, the industry is weighed down by many challenges. Most of the domestic airlines are facing bad economic times.
Government should empower the private airlines as part of the measures to make them survive the harsh economic climate. It should also provide the enabling environment to make airline business competitive and profitable.