Concerns over lack of investors for new national carrier

It has been 19 years since Nigeria Airways was liquidated. The regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has commenced moves to establish a new national carrier amid concerns raised by major stakeholders, Funmilayo Fabunmi reports

Nigerians have had to wait endlessly for the establishment of a new national carrier and stakeholders are raising questions about how long it will take the Federal Government to deliver the project which has suffered several years of delay for various reasons.

The national carrier, which means a country’s national airline, locally registered under a given statute and enjoys preferential rights or privileges accorded by the government for international operations.

While the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, is working to ensure that a new national carrier is reborn before the end of the year, stakeholders and industry experts familiar with the project have said it may not see the light of day, at least not under the Buhari-led administration.

Some experts and stakeholders have questioned the timing and need for a national carrier, tagging it as unnecessary. Others have expressed hope in the ability of the current administration to flag off the national carrier even though campaign and elections are just around the corner.

While congratulating the interim management of the national carrier headed by Captain Dapo Olumide on getting its Air Transport Licence from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, aviation expert, and the Chief Executive Officer, Finum Aviation, Sheri Kiari said, “After getting an ATL, you can now commence the five phases of AOC. So, if in the last one or two months the ATL was out and the people worked very hard, we should be expecting that they will conclude the AOC maybe sometime in September or October and then they can commence flying.

“They say they have got the ATL and the AOC running concurrently. Well, we don’t know how they did it but we cannot pinpoint and say this is when they finished and will now commence flying. But as far as I’m concerned, I can’t see them starting any flying before October.”

Aviation expert and Head of Research at Zenith Travels, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, agreed with  Kiari, noting that time, work and details going into getting an AOC might hamper the national carrier’s initial kick-off date.

According to Ohunayo, “They have got the ATL, what is left now is getting the AOC. For that, we are talking about a minimum of one year. I don’t know how they want to finish it before the departure of this regime because you know once the elections start, everyone and even the government will be focused on it and after the election you will have the handover. Now, will the investors be interested in investing in a government that is terminating next year?

“The time is quite short and I doubt they might be able to get credible investors who would want to invest at this time. Well, we need more airlines, airlines can come together and become a national carrier. We can even have national carriers or flag carriers, but that depends on the policy of the government in place.”

He also registered displeasure at the move to get a national carrier for the nation, saying, “Personally, I’m not for a national carrier that protects a set of investors against another set of investors who are already in place because they have a title ‘national carrier.’”

Aviation expert and CEO of Centurion  Aviation Safety and Security Konsult, John Ojikutu, said, “Is it a national carrier or a government carrier? Who are the shareholders, why is it so hard to be open about the partners? If it’s a national carrier, who are the partners, why don’t they have a name? As far as I’m concerned, that airline will not work. If we continue like this, I’m not optimistic about it. Since we haven’t done it in the last four years, I don’t know what we will in the next few months that will make a change.”

Aviation industry stakeholder and former Director of Operations, IRS Airlines, Captain Ken Wemambu, on the question of getting an AOC in time for flag-off, said, “I don’t work for Nigeria Air, but they’re doing their work very well. Captain Olumide had mentioned that that was ongoing at the same time, so I don’t think that should be an issue. They’re going through their process and it’s normal for the AOC to take the actual process.

“The AOC is what sets the standard of what is going to be tomorrow and Nigeria Air is going to fly to different parts of the world. When the AOC is ongoing, documentation for the aircrafts, maintenance programmes and procedures, flight programmes, trainings, everything must be scrutinised by the CAA before certificates are released. So, it’s not a matter of a rush, it’s a process. They’re working on it as captain Olumide has said.

“Getting an AOC depends on your readiness, and if Nigeria Air is what it’s supposed to be, they’ll get it as quickly as possible but not as quickly as the ATL. Getting an AOC has five phases and I tell you, phase three is probably where they are. It’s quite exhausting, let’s not rush them and I believe by the time they’re through, everybody should be happy.

“It’s about time we have a national carrier if done properly with investments. It’s about time Nigeria Air brings back foreign exchange to this country because we keep giving foreign out.”

He further said, “I can tell you that they are working towards the issue of AOC. You know after the ATL you have to get the certificate. Yes, both the management and NCAA are working on that and I’m very sure it will be issued soon and that will kick-start the operations of the airline. I can assure you that all hands are on deck to ensure that it takes off very soon.”

When asked about the absence of staff and aeroplanes, and also the identity of the yet-to-be-known 95 per cent investors, The spokesperson for Avation, James Odaodu said, “I don’t think that the recruitment of any airline, a private airline for that matter, requires any public notice. Government stake in this airline is five per cent now; there’s a transaction adviser that is working on the establishment of this airline and his work goes up to the take-off of the airline.

“They (investors) cannot be underground. You are aware that there was a request for the submission of proposals sometime in early June. I think their submissions are being evaluated and once that is done, the report will be made public. The essence of making this management interim is for them to handle the issues leading to the take-off before the core investors take over. If the core investors determine in the end that the interim management should carry on, then all is well and good, but they have the right to decide what happens and put in their management. The government would definitely make public the identity of the 95 per cent investors.”

Even though Capt. Ken strongly agreed with Odaodu, he dropped a few notes of warning for the survival of a national carrier.

He said that in order for the flagship airline to be sustainable and not go bankrupt or even worse,  the management needed to take note of several issues.

Speaking, he said, “What the minister (Hadi Sirika) is putting together and the way he has structured it may have been the right way in terms of where we have foreign investment, where people will be held accountable for what is on the table, where decisions will be taken by people who can sit together and agree where the government will not have to interfere no matter how much percentage the government has. So, we have investors’ money in the business and this will bring about what we call ‘sustainability’ and it’s left for the people in the system to ensure that they have sustainability officers trained and up to date who would monitor every quarter, the kind of business plan they have put in place, how to run the business plan, and put a stop to any derailment.

“You don’t just let the airlines fly while people make money and others lose money. Every time, there must be checks and balances. Security and efficiency are number one. It is important to see that the right things are done, and professionals are utilised at all times regardless of the country they’re from. They must make sure they have the people who are qualified and certified to do the job.

“If they play with safety, they will lose the airline. One thing they should remember, no matter how expensive it is, don’t mess with safety. Accidents close airlines up. Let them look at all these processes, sustainability, economic processes, how they run themselves quarterly, checks and balances, and let the right people be in the right places. With these, I don’t think the airline is going to have a problem. They’re starting well, hopefully they will continue well.”

Nigeria Airways Limited, popularly known as Nigeria Airways, was founded in 1958 after the dissolution of the West African Airways Corporation. In 1958, WAAC was dissolved and renamed WAAC Nigeria, as the other partner countries pulled out to set up their own national carriers upon their independence. Nigeria maintained the WAAC brand due to the prestige it had garnered over the years.

However, WAAC was eventually renamed Nigeria Airways Limited, which operated as the official national carrier of Nigeria until 2003 when the airline, due to mismanagement, owned only one aircraft and was in debt.

The airline was subsequently managed by a number of foreign organisations and was rebranded over the years as Virgin Nigeria, Nigerian Eagle Airlines and Air Nigeria, but they all pulled out for various reasons. It fluctuated between foreign, local and regional routes and finally ceased operation on September 12 2012.

The President, Major General Mohammadu Buhari (retd.), who was first elected on May 29 2015, expressed concern over Nigeria’s lack of a national air carrier after receiving a briefing from the Ministry of Aviation officials.

Buhari had in his first tenure inaugurated a 12-member ministerial committee to look into the establishment of a national carrier. The committee was chaired by Mohammed Abdulsalam, former managing director of Discovery Airlines. Nigerians have had to wait endlessly for the establishment of a new national carrier and stakeholders are raising questions about how long it will take the Federal Government to deliver the project which has suffered several years of delay for various reasons.

Article first published on the Punch Website

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