Over three attempts at national carrier end in fiasco

  • Ex-Minister’s shoddy arrangement, NCAA hammer may end future national carrier plan

 

The recurring failure by the Nigerian government to float a national airline for more than 15 years and particularly in the last eight may have put a permanent end to the idea.

Never have Nigerians followed the process to birth a national than in the past eight years. The project first suffered a hiccup when former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo four years ago put the project on hold because of the huge financial costs to the country.

Defunct Virgin Nigeria

Surprisingly, the project was revived by the government and many followed up with the process keenly to the point that the promoters of the project sent a formal document to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to kick start the project that only reached the first stage before the aviation regulatory body in a bold step put a hammer to the entire exercise by stopping it from proceeding to stage two.

There are five stages a firm goes through before it gets the all-important Air Operator Certificate (AOC).

In a not surprising manner, the NCAA on June 2, 2023, in a letter to the Managing Director of the yet-to-be carrier said, “The failure to follow the process was made known to the Nigeria Air Managing Director in a letter signed by Capt. O.O Lawani for the Director General Civil Aviation, DGCA.”

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The letter tagged, “Re: Request to Proceed to Phase Two of AOC Certification,”  dated June 2, 2023, with reference number NCAA/DOLTS//GEEN/Vol. III/16123.

The letter read, “The authority is in receipt of your letter dated 25th May 2023 on the above matter”.

Air Nigeria

“Quite contrary to our earlier letter of 16th May 2023 which enumerated the documents to be submitted with Formal Application Form OPS 002, your letter of request to proceed to phase two has no inclusion of a Formal Application Form the necessary documents referenced in the Formal Application Form. Hence, the Certification process cannot progress to Phase Two without these required documents.”

“Please be reminded that your Post Holders letters of commitment to Nigeria Air have a tenure of three months and as such expire now. Accept the assurances of our highest regard. From all indications, the process of Nigeria Air obtaining its AOC is still barely at stage one which is the Pre-Application stage.”

Experts who spoke to Aviation Metric agreed that a national airline for Nigeria was desirable but lambasted the former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika with the manner he led Nigerians on to nowhere, alleging that the entire exercise smacks of fraud and that should be probed by the new administration.

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A few others said the Federal Government does not need to establish a national airline as they reminded stakeholders of the way and manner Nigeria Airways was run aground and the pathetic corruption that rocked the Virgin Nigeria Airline that only lasted for about three years.

They maintained that the Federal Government had truly ill-advised itself to embark on a venture that has perhaps rhyme in politics but no reasons in contemporary conventional business wisdom.

It would be recalled that between 2013 and 2014, former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah pressured the Federal Government on the need for the country to float a national airline. The idea as usual was met with swift criticism and outright rejection.

Nigeria Eagle

At a point, Oduah and her Ministry converted Nigeria’s oldest private air operator, Aero Contractors, to a national carrier. It was a move that shocked many people.

One of the Aero Contractors’ aircraft, a Boeing 737-500 Classic that went for C-check abroad returned in new colours and a new name. The aircraft with registration number 5N-BLC which was painted in national colours had the name ‘Nigeria Eagle’ to replace the old name ‘Air Nigeria’.

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Reports detailed how Oduah, had concluded plans to unveil the firm as Nigeria’s new flag carrier. This came with the announcement that the government was planning to launch a new national carrier with a fleet of 30 aircraft.

A travel expert, Adeyinka Michael said the plan had always been similar with each Aviation Minister trying to kick-start the project but ending up with failure because of what he termed an ulterior motive for starting the project.

He expressed disappointment with the way and manner, “Sirika took the nation for a ride for nearly eight years for a project he was not sincere about. It is good to have a national carrier but it was annoying when the whole exercise was shrouded in secrecy and further exposed the corrupt underbelly of our past Ministers of Aviation who came with so much promise but not much to achieve.

“Yes, Sirika tried in so many other areas but spoilt everything with the way he went about national carrier. It is so unfortunate”.

Wole Shadare