Hope dims for national carrier two years after London launch

Hope dims for national carrier two years after London launch

• FG insists on Nigeria Air as project gets priority in N27b bailout fund
• Pandemic forecloses credible investors, technical partners
• Stakeholders disagree on prospect, economic viability
Two years ago, the Federal Government unveiled Nigeria’s new national carrier in London. The Nigeria Air project has however remained a dream with little or no hope of becoming a reality.

The multibillion naira investment has, in the last one year, been stalled. This happened just as the project was about to enter the procurement stage of implementation.

The fate of the project has been worsened by the adverse effects of COVID-19 on businesses; the chances of attracting new investors and credible technical partners have been dimmed by the pandemic.

Despite the situation, the Federal Government has continued to assure Nigerians that the project remains a priority. While some of the aviation stakeholders rallied the Federal Government to overcome the current constraints, modify the plan and create the airline in 2021, others expressed doubts on its feasibility and economic viability.

The Federal Government on July 18, 2018 unveiled the name and logo of the proposed carrier at the Farnborough International Public Airshow in London, United Kingdom (UK) ahead of the planned initial take-off on December 24 of that year. The lack of budgetary provision and criticism by the public forced the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, to “temporarily” ditch the December 2018 roll-out plan after about N80 million was reportedly expended. Sirika, however, denied the claim, saying less than N10 million was spent. It has remained ditched to date.

Sources at the Ministry of Aviation would, however, argue that the project had not been jettisoned. A director at the Ministry of Aviation, at the weekend, said the project was “now getting the attention it requires from the government and before long, we will advertise, inviting bidders.”

An example of “attention” cited was the N27bn aviation bailout lumpsum that has been proposed for the industry. A breakdown of the project elements, under the N27bn cushion, released last month, included payroll grant to airlines, handlers, caterers and related services; provision of single-digit soft loans with long-term repayment plan; and “beginning of processes for the establishment of a private sector-driven national carrier. The work plan has a 12-month duration.”

The national carrier is intended to replace the defunct Nigeria Airways that ceased operations in 2003. The replacement was designed as a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project with the Federal Government likely […]

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