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Nigerians still waiting for promised national airline

ABUJA, Nigeria – Nigerians have, for several months, been awaiting a national carrier that was promised by the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah-Ogiewonyi.

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ABUJA, Nigeria – Nigerians have, for several months, been awaiting a national carrier that was promised by the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah-Ogiewonyi.

The interest that greeted the promise was based on the people’s positive disposition towards having a national airline they would be proud of.

They wanted a virile and functional carrier that would again put Nigeria on the global aviation map, a carrier that would be efficiently run, and one that would be able to compete with big, European and American airlines. That has been the dream of every Nigerian.

For 10 years, Nigerians waited, albeit patiently to know how and why the liquidated Nigeria Airways was killed. Although, some knew the intrigues that trailed the liquidation of the once flourishing carrier, but they never knew the extent of damage the deliberate demise of the airline has caused the country.

Yes, Nigeria Airways died because all the people saddled with the responsibility of resuscitating the airline have been adjudged not to have helped matters simply because of alleged corruption.

While many airlines have masqueraded as replacement for the airline, none had made such impact that the carrier made all over the world, the joy and pride it brought to millions of people. In fact, the performance of these other flag carriers has been less than satisfactory.

They lack the will and financial muscle to compete with the likes of British Airways, Emirates, Qatar, Delta, United, Air France-KLM, Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa; the more reason these airlines are having a field day, running the show with some of the best equipment and in-flight services.

Some of Nigeria’s flag carriers are not doing enough to earn Nigerians’ respect because of the poor services they offer on the international routes. It is usually a pride to have airlines that is truly Nigerian.

But the expectations are fast turning into a mirage. Not that the government does not know what to do; a clear-cut direction of what it exactly wants is glaringly lacking.

In one breath, the Ministry said it would look for strategic partner(s) to give it the technical assistance it requires. In another breath, the government talks about entering into a Public Private Partnership (PPP) without giving Nigerians the clear direction of what exactly it wants to do.

Recently, the call for a truly national airline has been deafening. Nigeria, probably would not have found itself in this precarious situation had the government followed the recommendations of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) on the best possible way to privatise the airline.

The zeal on the part of Oduah-Ogiewonyi to bequeath the nation a national airline is fast waning. At least, the Ministry even scratched the surface or tinkered with the idea.

But stakeholders are of the opinion that her agenda lacks clear-cut direction of exactly what she wants to do.

The PPP is an alien contraption when it comes to setting up an airline. Is the process going to be transparent? Won’t people who are very close to the corridors of power hijack it?

Is it not going to be another big exercise in futility? Will a government after the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration not frustrate the PPP setup the way Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited, operators of the ultra modern MMA2 reportedly being hounded and frustrated over its multi billion naira investment at the Lagos airport? Will the Ministry of Aviation after this administration not wake up to say the deal was signed in error, or say they were not carried along before the deal was sealed?

Why is it becoming so difficult to go the way of Kenya Airways, which has become one of the most successful airlines in Africa? Kenya Airways had a far worse problems and challenges than the liquidated Nigeria Airways and has risen from the ashes to become one of the biggest players in the continent.

In fact, the carrier was two years ago rated as the second most profitable airline after Ethiopian Airways. The airline is a case study in privatisation.

In Africa, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian, Egypt Air and South African Airways are some of the most formidable airlines that have brought pride to their nations. They have helped to reduce huge capital flight, occasioned by the dominance of mega carriers like British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Delta, United, among others.

The privatisation of Kenya Airways was the first-ever privatisation of an African airline. The sale of a major state-owned asset is usually a highly charged political event, and the two-year process by which 77 per cent of the shares of Kenya Airways were sold to a broad array of private investors was no exception.

From the outset, the press and public of Kenya speculated as to how and when the process would fail, and which interests would profit from that failure. Yet the privatisation was carried out successfully.

Nigerian flag carrier airlines have not done too well owing to lack of good business model, crippling debt, lack of war chest to develop routes that are viable, coupled with lack of government’s assistance.

It is a fact that most of the carriers designated on foreign routes died few months after they commenced operations. The one(s) that is/are still in service are struggling to break even, as they are weakened by poor or lack of connections out of Europe, United States or even from some African countries.

Some of the interline agreements have collapsed while the ones that are still active are just hanging there.

Nigeria airlines are not just there in terms of reciprocating Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) between her and other foreign nations.

Former Commandant, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) said the move was that of senior partner (government) whom he said had never made a success of any business.

He stated that a new national airline is a return to the corrupt practices of the past.

Ojikutu advocated that government should establish two strong flag carriers through the capital market to enable the public to buy into them.

“Is the country thinking with the rest of the aviation world where the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is planning for only 12 world airlines?” he asked.

His words: “Moreover, government cannot be trusted to play by the rules. Nigerian government, being what it is, would like to throw its weight around like it’s been doing for some private airlines who are owing public and private aviation service providers and encouraging them sometimes to circumvent established regulations, especially commercial and BASA agreements”.

“We witnessed how government officials ruined the fortunes of the defunct Nigeria Airways. These officials who are mainly appointed not career officers would hide behind the veil of official duty and would collect concession or free tickets for trips for themselves, friends and members of their families”.

Managing Director of Touch Down Travels, Mr. Dayo Adeola, had attributed the problem of Nigerian airlines to lack of clear-cut aviation policy.

His words: “It is one policy today, another policy tomorrow; multiple airport operators. In the past, when you arrive Lagos from foreign country, you either board Okada Airlines or other local carriers to other parts of the country. The local airlines are dying today because people are not flying them”.

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