All eyes on national carrier

This year promises to be better as industry watchers look forward to the take-off of the long-awaited national carrier – Nigeria Air. Also, the industry is awaiting the take-off of an aircraft leasing company, a maintenance repair centre as well as the concession of four international airport terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano. KELVIN OSA-OKUNBOR reports .

This year will spring surprises for players in the air transport industry as countries adjust to emerging challenges thrown up by the new variant of COVID-19 – Omicron.

As a carry over from last year, the shape of things to come this year will be dependent on how countries respond to manifestations of the new variant, which is already altering dynamics in air travel.

Nigeria, as a member of the global aviation community, will not be insulated from developments Omicron will trigger for passengers, airport users, health authorities, border control agencies and organisations that have a stake in air transportation.

The operating environment in Nigeria will assume different dimensions as stakeholders look forward to the unveiling of the much- awaited national carrier – Nigeria Air.

The optimism surrounding the  new carrier is hinged on the assurance of the Minister of Aviation, Captain Hadi Sirika, that it would be airborne by the first quarter of the year.

Industry watchers / players say the delivery of the carrier should be a defining moment for the government as its plan to take off with three wet-leased airplanes should not be a difficult task to accomplish.

The new carrier, experts say, should deepen competition in the sector in the first quarter of the year.

Besides, they say the first quarter  would also be defining for users of airports as the Federal Government concludes plans to concession four international airports in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano.

Though the terms of giving out the terminals is still a subject of controversy, operators are watching how the development will play out.

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Aside the controversies surrounding how the terminals would be concessioned, the year 2022 will throw up a debate on when the new international terminal at the Lagos Airport would be inaugurated.

Though the facility had been completed by the Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Company (CEECC), how to link the facility with the over 40-year-old terminal remains a huge challenge for the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

What would happen to the old terminal when the new facility would be inaugurated remains a mystery as the year runs its course.

From indigenous carriers’ perspective, 2022 would be defining in the area of competition as more carriers – Air Peace, Ibom Air, United Nigeria Airlines, Aero Contractors, Overland Airways, Green African Airways – take delivery of airplanes they ordered to deepen their operations.

In the months ahead, the airlines would open new routes and increase frequencies on existing routes as they struggle to consolidate their operations on various routes.

Speaking in an interview  on what to expect in 2022, President, Aviation Safety Roundtable Initiative (ASRTI), Dr. Gbenga Olowo urged industry players to positively look forward to 2022 with great hope.

He said: “I pray  that the Omicron variant will not metamorphose into another variant or any other plague as such that will impact life so negatively like COVID-19.

“I’m not worried about the time of entry or exit of any carrier, my earnest desire is to see the emergence of strong, efficient, globally-competitive Nigerian flag carriers. The weight thrown by the  government on Air Peace/Emirate commercial negotiations in the United Arab Emirates  disagreement is a confirmation that Nigeria  has already endorsed that flag carrier model by throwing its weight behind it.

“I am trusting that the same steam, in 2022, will be deployed to sanitise all the routes which post negative trade balance to Nigeria in terms of its bilateral air services agreements  till date.

“The government should give its full support to all routes served by all countries hitherto in preparation for additional Nigerian flag carriers. To see Nigerian aviation  flourish again in 2022  remains my focus.”

Apart from scheduled carriers, a lot will unfold in the year for ground handling companies as they put finishing touches to the implementation of new handling rates for airlines.

Though they have secured regulatory approval for take-off of the rates on January 1, for foreign carriers and March for indigenous carriers, the question of sabotage looms in the air.

To starve off the ugly development, ground handlers have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the template for implementation.

The year would definitely spring surprises as more carriers secure their operating licences to begin operations on the domestic scene.

According to investigations, carriers to expect are Impex Airlines, Cardinal Airlines, Valujet Airlines, 7-Star Global and intrigues – ladden carrier – NG Eagle Airlines, promoted by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) from Arik Air.

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