Stakeholders divided over national carrier suspension


Air Nigeria, Stakeholders in the aviation sector are divided over the suspension and fate of the national carrier.

While some described it as a white elephant project that should be forgotten, others urged the Federal Government to rework its business case and equity and ownership structure, to attract reputable investors at home and abroad.

The government had last week suspended indefinitely the December 24 takeoff of the proposed carrier.

Operators under the aegis of Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON) at the weekend commended the Federal Government for taking a bold step by suspending the project, saying the decision was in the interest of the nation.

The Chairman of AON, Capt. Nogie Meggison, said his members had noted that the process was not transparent and did not clearly define the role of private investors or address sustainability issues.

“At this time of our national limited resources and struggle to recover from recession, AON would like to state that there are private Nigerian airline investors ready to invest and already investing heavily in the sector and are only asking for a friendlier operational environment and infrastructure support.

“Setting up a national carrier will cost Nigeria at least $3 billion. A single Boeing777 costs about $320 million.

Is it wise or is it our priority as a nation to take $3 billion from the coffers today and put it into a venture that will for sure go down the drain within a maximum of five years?”

He noted that a national carrier would need an additional cash injection of $500 million in subsidy per year on average for the next 10 years to keep the airline afloat.

The Aviation Safety Roundtable Initiative (ASRTI), an industry think-tank, said Nigeria needed a carrier in the status of Nigeria Airways in its heyday to be relevant in aviation’s global community.

The group, however, called for clarity on the plan and better equity and parity between Nigerian and foreign investors.

Its chairman, Gbenga Olowo, said ASRTI would encourage not just minimal involvement of government in the process but also restriction.

“If and when, as expected, this process goes ahead to the finish line, it would be helpful to consider the employment of reputable headhunters in the nomination of even the startup management team.

The General Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Olayinka Abioye, on his part, said the government must settle all severance pay and the pensions of staff of the defunct Nigeria Airways to earn credibility.

Until this is done, the unions would not support the project, he said.

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