Sanusi’s Exit: Revving Up National Carrier Discourse

The stepping down of Capt. Ado Sanusi from Aero Contractors last week has kept tongues wagging that government is indeed moving closer to setting up a national carrier with the aircraft pilot waiting in the wings to oversee the start-up company as events in the next few weeks would show the direction for a new airline that has taken too long to birth. WOLE SHADARE writes

 

Capt. Ado Sanusi leaves Aero

The ‘unexpected’ resignation of Capt Ado Sanusi from Aero Contractors last week left many wondering on what the shape events would take in the coming months both for Aero Contractors and Arik Air that are technically owned by the Federal Government.

Captain Abdullahi Zubair Mahmood, a former Chief Pilot of Arik Air Limited, has since been appointed as the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the oldest airline in Nigeria.

The Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) is both the majority shareholder and creditor of Aero Contractors and Arik Air.

Strategic repositioning

While many are of the view that Sanusi’s resignations was strategic and plan to use the carrier as a platform for setting up a new national carrier that the Federal Government is aggressively but silently pursuing, AMCON stated that the aircraft captain had served out his tenure.

Spokesman of the corporation, Jude Nwazor, had described Sanusi’s resignation and the change of guard as “a restrategising process.”

He also confirmed the speculation that AMCON might deploy Sanusi to another entity under its aviation portfolio, saying, “I am not sure we are done with Capt. Ado Sanusi as you know that we still have many entities under our aviation portfolio.”

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Unclear direction

This speculation is very rife and one that seems to sit very well with the many aviation professionals that Sanusi would be most capable of instilling confidence in the public in a new airline to be named Nigeria Eagle.

It is equally not clear what the fate of Arik is as Woleshadarenews had exclusively reported in February 2020 that the Federal Government had concluded plans to rename Arik Air to Nigeria Eagle as it commences total rebranding of the airline, which is currently under the control of Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON). Many said the idea was not rebranding of Arik but totally a different airline.

Roadmap               

That has equally made the argument for the establishment of a national carrier as Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, had in various fora indicated the importance of establishment of a national airline for the country.

Creation of a national airline is one of the roadmaps of the Federal Government, which the minister said was developed to serve as a catalyst for a comprehensive overhaul of the aviation industry in Nigeria so as to position the country as an air transportation hub within the West and Central African sub-region.

The road-map includes the establishment of a national carrier, establishment of a Maintenance, Repair Overhaul (MRO), concession of airports, establishment of an aviation leasing company among others.

It is expected to lay a solid and lasting foundation for aviation development in Nigeria according to Sirika.

The most visible of the projects that would easily be seen by the public is a national airline because of the propensity to fly from one corner of a place to another while others can only be seen by users and insiders; people remotely connected to them.

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Criticisms have trailed the idea particularly at a time COVID-19 is still raging but some have made a case, saying that there is no better time than now to do so than now. Whatever their argument for or against the project, the minister and his team are poised to go ahead with it.

 

Former Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi

The big question

The question is, does every country still need a national airline? The consensus is that as more countries adopt Open Skies agreements and open their borders with neighbours, each country no longer needs its own airline, particularly loss-making ones supported by governments.

An airline operator, who craved anonymity, said: “If the choice was whether I wanted to have a national airline and pay a shitload of taxpayer money just to maintain the flag on airplanes, compared to having someone else come and fill the void, I’d choose someone else. If nations want their flags to be carried, they can do it in many other ways.”

Of course, not everyone agrees. Many governments see national airlines as “embassies with wings” and key tools for global trade. Others view their national airline as a public utility, and fear that if it goes out  tradeof business, no other carrier would backfill the routes. Some like having a national airline merely for patriotism, national pride, and nostalgia.

Are national airlines still vital?

Many politicians fear their nations will be irrelevant if they lose their money-losing flag airlines. That’s probably a stretch. In most places, the market likely would fill the gap — provided the government got out of the way. But national pride is powerful, and few people want to see storied brands disappear.

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If airlines suffer, governments may need to ask if there’s still value to having a national carrier other than patriotism or pride. And they may wonder whether it still makes sense to prop up airlines as more countries open their skies to new entrants and foreign carriers.

The most powerful national brands should be fine. Airlines like Lufthansa and British Airways long ago separated from governments, and their home markets have robust demand. But elsewhere, from South Africa to India to Nigeria, politicians may need to ask whether it’s good public policy to pump taxpayer cash into airlines, directly or indirectly.

Most governments don’t want to let go. But some free-market proponents, like Antonis Simigdalas, who founded Aegean Airlines in Greece two decades ago, effectively putting the decades-old national airline out of business, say it’s an exercise in futility.

Last line

Events in the next few weeks would clearly show the direction the country would tow in the creation of a new national airline. Things are expected to move fast on concession and creation of a new national carrier.

Wole Shadare