Why Buhari insists on national carrier’s establishment –Interim CEO, Captain Olumide

The interim Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Air, Capt. Dapo Olumide, speaks on why the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), insisted on establishing a national carrier for Nigeria, among other issues, in this interview with Okechukwu Nnodim

Tell us about the Nigeria Air project

It is important for me to stress that this airline, the Nigeria Air project, is a part of the roadmap that was conceived by President Muhammadu Buhari and its been actively driven by the Minister of Aviation. The national airline is one aspect of the entire aviation roadmap, which as you know, includes a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul facility; aircraft leasing; a university that is specifically geared towards educating people in the aviation sector, as opposed to a general university. For example there is a specific law degree in aviation, you can specialise in aviation law. So these are all aspects of the roadmap and Nigeria Air is one of the critical aspects of that roadmap. Therefore it is actually much more significant than a lot of people give it credit for.

What is the objective for establishing the airline?

The objective of this national airline and the reason the President insisted on us having such a thing was because we need to restore pride in Nigeria within and outside the country. We need to re-instil in the minds of people that Nigeria with its population in excess of 200 million, has capacity, and actually most people around the world say that Nigerians are the most travelled of any nationality. Therefore it behoves us as a people to provide that infrastructure for our people to have access to the other parts of the world. And that is the reason for the airline’s slogan, which is ‘Bringing Nigeria closer to the world.’ That is significant, it is not just to say it for no reason. We want to bring Nigeria to the world. We want more people to have access to Nigeria and more people from Nigeria to go out of this country.

The director-general (of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority) knows that there are over 80 BASAs (Bilateral Air Service Agreements) for example. Now those in the industry knows what a BASA means, however, in simple layman’s terms it means permission to fly in between two countries, so to speak. And you know that with our existing infrastructure, we are not utilising these BASAs.

Would the emergence of Nigeria Air enable us to utilise these BASAs?

When you have a national airline you have the ability to deploy capacity onto those BASA routes, not on all of them, but onto the major ones. Now this is not just about revenue drive, it is about exposure and we have airlines in this country that are also serving these markets. So the more Nigerians are involved in this, the greater the addition to the economy of the country, because when you have a national airline it creates a lot of employment. You will have car hire services, hotels, as more people will be coming in and going out of the country, we can expand our terminal facilities and there will be more employment within the terminal and so on. All of these are all part of the growth of the nation in terms of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and this is what the national airline can serve and produce.

Also, beyond that, it is about national pride. Many of us are football supporters. Why do you support the Super Eagles and you wear the jersey? You are not in the football stadium but you are wearing the jersey of the Super Eagles and you are supporting them primarily because they are Nigerians and it is a Nigerian team. That is why you are supporting them and it is the same reason you will support the national airline because it is flying your flag. Other airlines fly your flag as well but this is an opportunity for us to have our own. Let me put in another way, when you are at an airport around the world, it doesn’t matter where is it, whether Accra or Lomé, let’s not go as far as Europe; when you get off another aircraft and you are at the airport terminal and you see an aircraft called Nigeria Air, even if you are not on the flight, you will have a tinge of pride that my country is represented here. Yes, we are not followers, we are leaders. And that is a very significant thing for us to have.

We have not had this for many years and I think that with the vision of the President and the Minister of Aviation to have this in the roadmap, the time is right. So let’s fly the flag and make Nigeria proud because we have so many Nigerians in diaspora and with the national airline people will come back, specialists in aviation will come and we are going to drive the economy. And that is critical for the growth of the nation. So we are all here to work together and I want you to understand that we will make Nigeria proud. Because this airline is going to be professionally run with the fullest assurance of all involved in the entire process of setting up this airline from the PPP process up to the commencement of operations. Rest assured that Nigeria Air is here and it is going to deliver quality to the people of Nigeria and make us all proud.

Tell us about the Air Transport Licence that has just been issued to the airline

We have been working on this for a long time but diligently. And to get to this point is a significant achievement and a milestone of the launch of this airline. I would like to thank the NCAA for its efforts in steering this process to achieve the goals that we are trying to achieve for this nation. And let me assure you that myself and the team will deliver to the people of Nigeria a well-deserved national airline.

There were reports that Nigeria Air would start flying in July this year. Now that you have received an ATL, how feasible is that date?

There is a process. There’s no magic wand. There is a process to issuing an AOC (Air Operator Certificate). And when you have an AOC and an ATL you can commence commercial scheduled operations. The date is largely based on the process that we are following to gain the Air Operator Certificate. It is not something that be issued because they like my face, it is a process that you have to go through the five steps and you have to go through all of them. We are working around the clock, which is why the other team members setting up this airline are not here because they are working hard for us to meet those requirements. These are very stringent requirements, which is why the ATL that we just received took this long to be issued, because there are processes to go through. No magic wand. And we are going through the same thing with the AOC and when we have that certificate we will commence operations.

When are we going to have the first set of aircraft for the airline delivered?

The first aircraft will be here shortly. In fact this is the reason why one of the persons in the team, Hans Peter, is in Europe at the moment sourcing for the aircraft. The aircraft are available but there are all sorts of issues because this is the summer peak period around the world. And as you know, post-COVID, most aircraft, if you remember, were parked in the desert. We’ve seen old pictures of the aircraft parked in the desert. The airlines are bringing them out slowly. It takes time to bring an aircraft out of storage and there is a further complication, as you’ve seen in the media, with a lot of flights in Europe and America being cancelled or delayed. And this is because most people were laid off during COVID and they don’t have enough staff in the airports to turn around flights. So there’s a lot of cancellations going on.

So it’s very difficult to get aircraft. But we have discussions going on with the providers OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and we are just waiting for the terms of the agreement. We already have the aircraft identified because that is one of the requirements for the NCAA, but we are just trying to perfect titles and so on. So that’s where we are with the aircraft, as its sourcing is still in process and we are looking at that.

What is the management of Nigeria Air going to do differently to ensure that the airline does not go down like the defunct Nigeria Airways?

There are all sorts of airline structures around the world, low cost, ultra-low-cost, legacy, full service, flag carrier, national carrier, hybrid, etc. The previous airline that you referred too was Nigeria Airways. That was a government-owned and government-run airline. This is a very different scenario. This is a government airline that has been midwifed to hand over to Nigerian institutional investors who would own 51 per cent at the minimum in the airline. And that is very different to what you had in the airline you were referring to. This airline, like I said earlier, will have a minimum stake of 51 per cent of Nigerian investors, be they institutional or what have you and the government will, of course, have five per cent. The rest will be to our strategic equity partners. This is something that we need in Nigeria to give us that international credibility and access to the market.

So the previous airline was a structure that was designed in its time and it met the requirements in its time, because in those days, remember that this was before deregulation, that was the only structure that was available at the time, at least in Nigeria. Therefore with deregulation, open skies, it is a different story. And this model and structure that the government is putting in place for this airline is the best approach and is actually securing the future of the airline in more ways than one. Trust me.

Article first published on the Punch Website

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