Few days after the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, unveiled the name and logo of a new national carrier for Nigeria in Farnborough, London, players in the nation’s aviation industry have expressed suspicion with the project.
Stakeholders claimed that the attempt to re-establish a new national carrier for Nigeria has been shrouded in secrecy, while the model to be adopted by the government is not known to players in the sector.
They specifically queried the approval of $308million as startup grants for the airline and the institutional investors who, Siika claimed, would have 95 per cent shares in the airline while the Federal Government would hold the remaining 5 per cent.
One of the union leaders in the industry, Comrade Olayinka Abioye, the General Secretary of National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), warned that until the government pays the final severance packages of the staff of the defunct national carrier, Nigeria Airways, the unions in the sector would ensure that the plan does not come into fruition.
According to Abioye, the unions had resolved that before the government commences a new national carrier, the severance packages of the former workers must be paid in full.
He also explained that the planned new nationionl carrier runs contrary to the earlier position of the government on establishing a new carrier for the government.
Abioye declared that the government had planned to establish a private sector-driven airline, but noted that so far, no investor is known to any member of the public.
He said: “We are not concern about this new national carrier even though it is our baby with supposed benefits to the country. We are much more concerned about the families of the defunct national carrier, Nigeria Airways who have died, we are much more concerned about those who are living and managing to live and we are calling on this minister and government to speed up action on whatever capacity they can to ensure that Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, the Minister of Finance releases and pay our people. Enough is enough.
“The unions may truncate the process of the new national carrier; you can take that from me. There are so many fundamental issues begging for answers in some of these things. The national carrier that we are advocating for is not what they are planning now. We said private sector driven national carrier, what is the problem with this government?
“The same government that said it didn’t have money to revamp our comatose airports is now spending $308m as take off grant for the airline. The same government wants to bring in six new aircraft from God knows where. Where then is the intervention of the private sector in all these? At what point is private sector going to be involved? These are issues that should be tackled. Then, how do you want to unveil a national carrier and take it overseas, leaving Nigeria behind. Those politicking are too much and we are not interested.”
Also, Chairman of Air Peace, Barr. Allen Onyema said that it was important government provided a level playing field for the domestic investors who had put their monies in the airline business without any form of support and protection from government.
He explained that government and its agencies in the sector were contributing to the death of domestic airline operators through granting of multiple entry points to foreign airlines without reciprocity.
He specifically mentioned Ethiopian Airlines as one of the carriers that benefited from the lopsidedness.
He said: “Some people who call themselves experts in the sector will talk nonsense about operating airlines in the country. The so called experts should set up airlines and see what will happen to their airlines. These are the same set of people government takes advise from.
“The government should create level playing field for all operators even with the emergence of the new national carrier.”
Also, Alhaji Muneer Bankole stated that it is important for Nigerians to give the government the opportunity to explain the emplate to everybody.
Bankole maintained that although it was still being talked about in Farnborough, when they come back to Nigeria, stakeholders would have to sit down and ask questions about the airline project.
He warned government against deploy public funds into the project, adding: "There is definitely no threat, once you know the onus, they operate normally like an airline. The only thing is that they should not take from the government and peoples’ funds, it should be private sector-driven."
Capt. Dele Ore, Director of Operations, Nigeria Airways, said that the airline had no reason to be profitable, but said for this to happen, right people must placed at the helms of affairs.
However, he called on the government to pay the severance packages of the former workers of the national airline, saying that most of the affected staff today, put in their best to ensure the survival of the airline, but it was run aground by government and its appointees.
“I don’t know if the money would be paid or not. When it will be paid, I don’t know. I have never worked for any organization in my life. I came into aviation at the age of 22 years and I put in about 30 years and I am still here now. But the industry has not been fair to some of us,” he said.
Chairman of African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA) and former Secretary General of African Airlines Association (AFRAA), Mr. Nick Fadugba, said there are many unanswered questions in terms of the management, funding and fleet of the new airline.
Fadugba noted that the government is already the de facto owner of both Aero and Arik through the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) and wondered how it would manage these airlines and at the same time establish a new national carrier.
He argued that the proposed Nigeria Air ought to have a synergy with other carriers so they could better harness the huge international market.
“There are many questions that need to be answered in terms of the management, the funding and the fleet. So, I believe the government 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 the concept is.”
Sirika had unveiled the name and logo of the new national carrier last Wednesday in London, saying it would be private sector-led, and a business entity rather than a social service.