By Sade Williams
As the plans to establish a new national carrier reach advance stage, stakeholders have asked the Federal government to give clarifications on some areas that seem to them to be ‘knotty’ before the carrier is finally established.
One of them, Barrister Allen Onyema, chairman of Air Peace, at the just concluded 22nd Annual Seminar of the League of Airports and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC), with the theme: Financing Aviation Development Through Private Sector Partnership, raised fears over allocation of 81 routes to the new national carrier, to be known as ‘Nigeria Air’, adding that with this plan, government may be indirectly decimating other domestic carriers.
He said this needs to be reviewed before the airline comes on stream. He added that domestic carriers must be protected by all means in order for the sector to remain buoyant.
He urged government to only think about creating a level playing field where all airlines will survive and compete favourably.
Onyema, who said he is not afraid of the national carrier, however said: “If the intention of government is to use the national airline to provide jobs for Nigerians and boost the image of the country, domestic operators will cooperate it to make it a success.
“Government must do everything possible not to frustrate existing carriers because of private investment. The creation of a level playing field remains critical to the sustenance of an effective aviation sector.
“And since the government has already selected 81 routes for the new carrier, the modality to allocate routes will have to be looked into except the government is indirectly trying to decimate existing operators”, he said.
Also speaking the event, Alhaji Muneer Bankole, Chief Executive officer, Medview airline, urged the minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, to come back to Nigeria and tell its citizens what the real plans are, adding that people are yearning to ask questions.
“I will like to give them the opportunity to come out and be able to tell everybody the template, it is still being talk about in Farnborough when it comes to this country we have to sit down and ask questions”, he said.
He however said the national carrier is not a threat only if there would level playing field, other airlines know their onions above all, the carrier is only privately driven.
“There is definitely no threat, once you know the onions, they operate normally like an airline, the only thing is that they should not take from the government and peoples’ funds, it should be privately driven”.
Another speaker, Former Secretary-General of African Airlines Association (AFRAA) and Chief Executive Officer of African Aviation Services Limited, Mr. Nick Fadugba, said there is a lot of uncertainty over the new national carrier because of the modality adopted for the project; when the government through the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) already owns Aero and Arik airlines implying three airlines under the ownership of the government which has not happened in any country before.
“There are many questions that need to be answered in terms of the management, the funding and the fleet. So I believe the government now needs to brief the Nigerian people on the national carrier. Rather than doing it abroad, we need to come home and explain to the whole nation what is the concept is.
“More importantly, I am interested in how does the national carrier interface with all the other airlines in Nigeria. Because remember that the government is the de facto owner of two other airlines: Arik and Aero. So this is the first time I have seen one government own three airlines. So the government needs to coordinate its airlines strategy in terms of moving forward”, he said.
He advised that government may either sell Aero and Arik to investors or map out a good strategy that will resolve the contradiction.
“I think the government and the ministry of aviation need to sit down and really think carefully on what they want to do with Arik and what they want to do with Aero, because they have used public fund to maintain these airlines. Effectively, the government owns 60% of each of them and now you have created a national carrier, so there is a little bit of contradiction here. So we need to as a matter of urgency resolve what is happening to Arik. If you want to sell it to investors please go ahead and do it. Aero the same thing, I would love to see the three airlines working together, I think that will be a good strategy for Nigeria”, he added.