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Nigeria to Launch a National Carrier that it Hopes will Adequately Serve West Africa

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While Nigeria has frequently postponed the debut of the much anticipated flag carrier, Nigeria Air, the country’s Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) office has said it is finalizing the launch dates  planned for 2023.

This is after the country’s office of the president officially agreed to extended the deadline, which was slated to be in April 2022.

New Flag Carrier

According to ICRC Director General Michael Ohiani, the Nigerian government has begun talks with Airbus and Boeing to purchase the first three narrow-body planes for Nigeria Air.

With the airline being a campaign pledge for the country’s current President Muhammadu Buhari years ago, and Nigerians having to wait for its launch since 2018, the ICRC director believes that Nigeria Air will begin operations before the presidential administration ends, with elections scheduled for February 2023.

But this is not the first attempt by the Nigerian government to run a national carrier.

The country has been without a national carrier since 2003 with the previous state airlines folding due to problems of governance.

Nigeria Airways, in which the government owned a majority stake, folded in 2003. Air Nigeria, a later iteration of Nigeria’s flag carrier set up with the government and Virgin Group, ceased its operations in 2012.

However, Nigeria being the largest country by population in Africa with just over 215 million people and with that number expected to exceed over 400 million by 2050 according to the United Nations, there is a burgeoning aviation market.

By also being an economic powerhouse in Sub-Saharan Africa it’s critical for Nigeria Air to get up and begin operating as quickly as possible in order to keep up with the competition.

Emirates’ & Qatar Airways Willing to Help

Emirates Airlines, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar Airways, its Qatari counterpart, have rallied behind Nigeria’s new national carrier initiative.

While Qatar Airways is one of the legacy carriers asking for a technical collaboration, Emirates has only agreed to help Nigeria if invited by the government.

When asked if Emirates would get involved in Nigeria Air, during a panel discussion at the World Government Summit 2022 in Dubai on March 28, CEO of Emirates Airlines, Tim Clark said, “If the Nigerian government and the Minister need some assistance in how they go about – perhaps a blueprint – we are very happy to help them, but I would say that they have the wherewithal. They are clearly understanding what needs to be done and they are doing it; and probably within the next year, they will have a very good carrier flying.”

Clark stated he believed there was a viable business case for Nigeria Air as Nigeria was “the powerhouse of Africa.”

Nigeria Air has invited interested private businesses to make ideas for the takeover and development of the new carrier last month, in addition to requesting an Air Operator’s Certificate and an air transport licence from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, as well as forming an interim staff to supervise the incubation phase.

Ownership Structure

The minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika emphasized that the government will only have a 5% investment in the private sector enterprise, with no government control or board involvement.

John Ojikutu, Secretary-General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative, encouraged the federal and state governments not to take more than a 10% interest in the airline to make it a flag-carrier rather than a national airline.

He however cautions against working with airlines that currently compete with Nigeria on its Bilateral Air Service Agreement routes.

“Using Qatar, Turkish or any Middle East country, E.U. and U.S. airlines that are on our BASA routes, in any partnership, cannot profit the airline. Get technical partners from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and so on,” Ojikutu said at a press conference.

Not forgetting we are looking and hoping for the birth of a new Pan-African airline group which is seeking a West-African airline partner to initiate the takeoff. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

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