• Monday, June 17, 2024
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Stakeholders doubtful over viability of national carrier in Nigeria


Stakeholders in the aviation sector have expressed skepticism over its viability of the intended national carrier as the current harsh economic situation is biting harder.

According to them, a national carrier could be desirable but with the downturn in the national economy, it is not essential. What government should be talking about now is Flag Carriers or National Airlines where government will not have substantial investment control.

John Ojikutu, secretary general, Aviation Round Table, (ART) told BussinessDay that a national carrier is a flag carrier for Nigeria, which will operate scheduled regional and domestic passenger services.

Last month, the Central bank announced that Nigeria’s economy contracted in the first quarter for the first time since 2004 and a recession, or two consecutive quarters of contraction is imminent.

John Ojikutu said the government should be planning to establish at least flag carriers or national airlines with substantial public equity and foreign technical investment that together, should not be less than 70% and Nigeria private investment, 30%.

Ojikutu explained that for the established airlines to effectively compete with the foreign airlines on the established Bi-lateral Air Service Agreement, (BASA) and substantially sustain the regional, continental and intercontinental routes, each must have minimum 30 medium and long-range modern aircraft.

“The only challenge for the new airlines would be availability of skilled manpower in sufficient numbers. Right now, there is dearth of skilled manpower generally, which includes pilots and aircraft engineers. The existing airlines depend on foreign professionals to sustain their operations. The consequence of relying on foreign manpower is capital flight,” Ojikutu added.
BusinessDay’s findings show that the new airline is to be formed from the assets of Aero Contractors, an old indigenous carrier, which has been taken over by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) on account of its huge indebtedness and Air Nigeria, which has been sold by its erstwhile core investor.

However, the government has not come out to specify who the private sector investors are. There are about 48,000 seats on the weekly flights by the foreign airlines on the international routes, whereas, the Nigerian airlines fly barely 4,000.

Airline operators say that with at least two national airlines, the indigenous airlines should aim at operating flights of about 12,000 to 15,000 seats weekly, initially, increasing later to about 25,000 seats weekly.

Earlier this year, the Federal Government said that one of the major reasons why government wished to establish a national carrier was to cut down the huge amount of capital flight that foreign airlines take out of the country.
Still, operators in the sector have said that previous efforts by government from other African countries to set up a national carrier failed.

Olumide Ohunayo, head, Zenith Travels, stated that the formation of a new national carrier for Nigeria by the government would further weaken the existing indigenous airlines that are already on the decline due to several factors.

Ohunayo emphasised that if the plans of the government eventually come to fruition, the yet to be launched national carrier would be given some protections and exclusivities that would naturally accompany the new status at the expense of the domestic carriers.

He insisted that it would be wrong for the government to protect the liabilities of some indigenous carriers at the expense of the others, stressing that all the airlines should be given a level playing ground to operate in the country.

He said, “We do not need a national carrier, neither do we need to protect families that have mismanaged their airlines.”

A member of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, NAAPE, Adekunle Babafemi, described the proposed national carrier for Nigeria as a misadventure by the government.

Babafemi insisted that national carrier was not the solution to the problem of traditional aviation in the country, recalling that Nigeria once had a national carrier, which was allegedly destroyed by the government and its appointees.

He said what Nigeria requires are designated carriers while the government provides enabling working environments for them and called for cancellation of multiple entries for foreign carriers.

Twenty five ships laden with petroleum products, food items and other goods are expected to arrive Apapa and Tin-Can Island ports in Lagos, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), said on Monday.

NPA explained that the expected ships contained buck wheat, bulk sugar, general cargoes, containers, bulk charcoal, diesel, base oil, frozen fish and petrol.
The twenty-five ships were being expected at the ports from July 4 to July 16.
The document noted that four ships had arrived the ports, waiting to berth with petrol and empty containers.

NAN reports that 16 ships are at the ports discharging general cargoes, buck wheat, fertiliser, frozen fish, bulk charcoal, buck rice, containers and petrol. (NAN)