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Is national carrier project in limbo?

With Ghana’s signing of an ambitious $877m aircraft acquisition deal with Boeing last week to relaunch its national carrier, tongues are wagging over the proposed…

With Ghana’s signing of an ambitious $877m aircraft acquisition deal with Boeing last week to relaunch its national carrier, tongues are wagging over the proposed Nigeria Air project and the seriousness of the federal government to bring back the national carrier.

The Ghanaian dream of establishing a national carrier is almost becoming a reality as it recently signed a purchase agreement with Boeing to acquire three airplanes valued at $877.5 million. Ghana also sealed a deal for six Dash 8-400 from De Havilland Aircraft of Canada. Ghana’s ambitious deals, according to experts, is an expression of the country’s seriousness to re-float a national carrier after its defunct national carrier known as Ghana Airways founded in 1958 and ceased operations in 2004.

The Republic of Ghana had announced that the airline, likely to be called Akwaaba Airlines, will soon begin operations. Ghana’s aviation minister Joseph Kofi Adda who spoke at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) 40th Triennial Assembly in Montreal, Canada late September, said the government of Ghana and the private sector would hold a majority stake of 51 percent in the proposed airline while Ethiopian Airlines would hold the balance.

Both Nigeria and Ghana seem to have a similar history with their national carriers. Nigeria’s foremost national carrier, Nigeria Airways which records no succeeding airline has ever attained not to talk of surpassing them in terms of aircraft acquisition, training of manpower, among others, was also founded in 1958 and ceased operations in 2003, a year before Ghana Airways stopped flying. It was liquidated by then President Olusegun Obasanjo. But President Muhammadu Buhari rekindled Nigerians’ hope of a national carrier when he made it one of his cardinal programmes on assumption of office in 2015.

Senator Hadi Sirika, who has been in charge of aviation since 2015, took the matter with incredible gusto. He raised the people’s hope in July 2018 when he unveiled the Nigeria Air in London including the logo and livery of the proposed carrier. But two months after, he announced the suspension of the project to the consternation and disappointment of many Nigerians.

The minister however, debunked the insinuation, insisting that the project had not died; that the dream was still alive.

More African countries are floating national airlines; Uganda and Zambia have already floated their national carriers, while Ghana is on the line to take over the sky. However, it is obvious Nigerians have lost their patience. They want to see an aircraft branded Nigeria Air with logo and livery flying at least within the local airspace.

While Sirika has shown sufficient sincerity with the way he carries on with the project by involving the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) since the proposed carrier is going to be private sector driven, the minister must be under enormous pressure to actualise the national carrier project as soon as possible as Nigerians’ hope is waning.

The federal government has however in the 2020 budget, allocated N4bn for the takeoff of a national carrier. It remains to be seen what N4bn can do in the gargantuan project.

Where will the aircraft come from? Who are going to be the managers of the airline? Who are going to be the investors since the government said it is going to have only a small stake in the project?

These are complex issues that might not come to fruition in one or two years, according to observers. Nigerians are eager to see aircraft flying and certainly not keen about outline business case or baseline studies which the minister has persistently emphasised on.

President of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), Comrade Abednego Galadima said he remained optimistic that Nigeria would have a national carrier.

“We need a properly constituted structure and well established so that the national carrier would not be one of those airlines that did not last up to 10 years,” he said.

 

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