ANTHONY OMOH compiled this piece and has his opinions under standpoint. As this is supposed to be an interactive article, Nigerian Flight Deck would be interested to get your views on this topical issue do send us your comments.
Barely 48 hours ago, had President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the Ministry of Aviation to expedite action on the establishment of a new national airline, an idea that was mooted by the Jonathan administration but was not followed up with action for unknown reasons.
Buhari gave the order on Wednesday while receiving briefing from officials of the Aviation Ministry, led by the Permanent Secretary, Binta Bello.
Addressing State House correspondents at the end of the briefing, Bello said the President was concerned about Nigeria not having a national air carrier, hence the instruction to re-establish one.
“Mr President is quite concerned with lack of a national carrier for now and he has directed the ministry to look into the possibility of having a national carrier as soon as possible,’’ she said.
Defunct national carrier, Nigeria Airways was established in 1958 and liquidated in 2003 by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo by fiat despite the options available to savage the airline which as at that time included privatisation.
The then president may have had his reasons then for actually putting the final nail on the airline’s coffin, but the aftermath replacement; Virgin Nigeria which has metamorphosed thrice into Nigerian Eagle and then Air Nigeria was a conduit for the owners and served no purpose to the Nigerian state at all.
|Boeing 747 belonging to Nigeria Airways(defunct)
Now there is a call for the establishment of a new national carrier and divergent views are all over the issue especially fears that what happened to the first would happen to this new carrier.
It is an established fact that Nigeria airways collapsed was due to abuse and improper use of opportunity by public office holders then with government officials flying themselves and families while owing the company billions.
However, many including yours truly believe that the venture is a workable one as we can set frameworks to avoid the mistakes of the past and establish a commercially viable airline and not a social and political tool, in fact some experts have actually agreed on the workability of a new carrier in as much as Government doesn’t have to own 100% but a part.
Apart from national identity and the fact that the Nigerian flag should be flown out there, there are many bi-lateral, multi-lateral services agreement that the country is not benefiting from and this can actually be the start to exploiting those agreements thoroughly.
Also due to the dearth in manpower in the sector, re-establishing a national carrier for Nigeria has become necessary in order to ensure growth of technical personnel in the sector because in truth all our experienced personnel were trained by the defunct Nigerian Airways and now they are ageing out.
Another fact to be looked at is that Nigeria needs to plug the leakage of capital flight through the operations of more than 22 foreign airlines the only way to do that is to have a well established carrier that can compete for our market as the existing ones are not doing justice there.
Then there is the fact that the establishment of a national carrier would among other things; will have a ripple effect that will create jobs for qualified Nigerians, enhance Nigeria’s technological capacity in aeronautical industry based on the projected booming activities from the avionic workshop and the hangar, check capital flight and by implication, translate to huge socio-economic gains for the country.
One quick argument that many pundits and experts put forward is that government has no business in business, least of all in the aviation industry and that has been one argument that many a private sector driven airline have canvassed, but in truth they have no capacity to fill the vacuum left by the flying elephant.
Or could it be that some of these airlines are frightened that a well established and run national carrier will increase the bar of competition and many of the portfolio airlines struggling will eventually fold?
Whatever the case, the proponents of the argument that government cannot effectively own or establish an airline are sorely mistaken or parochial and do not believe that if we set our minds to it under credible leadership, we can establish and run a commercially viable airline.
All over the world today there are still airlines that have government backing and finances in them that still operate up till now because they have impeccable legal and business frameworks that they executed to the letter.
Legacy carriers like Air France, KLM, Turkish Airlines are still operating and doing well and are not perceived as private carriers but government entities.
Then there are the Middle East carriers that have in such a short time taken the world by storm; the Emirates, Etihads, Qatar Air, Singapore airlines, which by the way is one of the most profitable airlines in the world, and so many other have gone to show that it takes hard work and discipline run an airline no matter who owns it.
The argument then goes to the fact that these are countries that are not bedevilled by the challenges of Africa, such as high cost of jet fuel, spare parts, unfavourable legislations etc and then we turn our minds to the Ethiopian Airlines of Africa, South African Airways, Kenyan Airways, and the big three.
Then there are Royal Air Maroc, Air Tunis, Afriquair and this brings the new players like Rwandair, Air Ivorie which has made a return after being defunct like our WT, Air Algerie and so many more operating national carriers; the problem has not been business module but sincerity of purpose to drive an industry in Nigeria.
Mr. Chris Okupe, an aviation analyst, once told a national daily (not flight deck) that new national carrier if properly established would be a money spinning venture for the country.
Okupe said even though the FG may not totally from the ownership the composition of the ownership could be in form of technical partner with a world class foreign airline with a strong brand appeal and maintenance base, 27 per cent; Nigerian Corporate Partners, 35 per cent, Federal Government; 18 per cent, staff of the proposed airlines; 15 per cent, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, NTDC, with 5 per cent input.
Further he said the private carriers could be designated on some routes as flag carriers. For instance, he noted that British Airways, though a public quoted company is the national carrier of United Kingdom while Virgin Atlantic Airways is a flag carrier from same country.
He insisted that it would be very difficult for a privately owned company in Nigeria to compete with the mega carriers from Europe and Middle East, adding that the carriers could be advised to get technical partners to operate effectively and get a global brand.
Okupe recalled that Kenya Airways with Nigeria Airways’ experience of failures was privatised by the government of that country with KLM being the technical partner with 27 per cent share among other partners including the workers, stressing that today, Kenya Airways is one of the most profi table carriers in Africa operating with modern fleet of aircraft.
He added, “Nigerian market has been widely opened to these foreign airlines and the government can take a cue from National carriers like, South African Airways, Kenya Airways, Emirates, Etihad, Air Namibia, Air Royal Morroc, Egypt Air, Air Tanzania and Ethiopian Airlines that are solely owned by their respective governments and they are posting profits.
“From Far East comes Emirates Airlines, Nigeria Airways opened the Dubai route in 1998, but after its liquidation, Emirates came in with twice weekly flights and now because of lucrative Nigerian market, the airline operates three daily flights; Lagos and Abuja in addition to Cargo flights.
Alhaji Muneer Bankole , the Managing Director, Med- View Airline and a former Nigerian Airways staff at one point said that for the Nigerian aviation industry to attain its desired goals, the Federal Government should re-create a national carrier for the country.
Bankole insisted that the liquidation of the former national carrier, Nigeria Airways was a wrong decision by the government and stressed that for a country as large as Nigeria to reach its potentials, it was necessary for it to have a national carrier that would protect its image in the international community.
He mentioned some of the countries with national airlines to include South Africa Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, Air Maroc, Etihad and Emirates among many others, maintaining that Nigeria required a national carrier with strong management.
However, the Director, Zenith Travels, Mr. Olumide Ohunayo has severally kicked against the re-establishment of a national carrier for the country, but expressed support for flag carriers, which he said should develop from regulatory consolidated process.
He argued that airlines are the weakest link, saying a national carrier with accompanying exclusivity and protection would increase the present malaise in the sector.
He said, “We need an airline that is owned by Nigeria even in management. What we have in the country now are weak airlines owned by a dominant individual and cosmetic board for passing regulatory process.”
Dr. Kashim Shettima, President of Skyjet Aviation Services,, in his submission says if the government goes ahead with the plan it would be a nightmare highlighting reasons like the cost of running it and the subsidy government would have to put into it
His words: “In my own opinion, I think the President needs to be properly briefed with what the current situation is. He needs to hear the truth and nothing but the truth. There should be a stakeholders meeting with President, where he will meet face to face with the industry players such as Unions, Airline Operators of Nigeria and so on. Does the President know the cost of running an airline now? Does he know that National Carrier will have to be given subsidy from time to time? Why do we have to re-invent what happened to Nigeria Airways? The President needs to have the forensic audit of why Nigeria airlines are falling and debt ridden before venturing into the business. I hope it is going to be business because aviation is nothing but a business. This might be a nightmare. In a as much as this is a good dream, sentiment must not replace reality like what we have presently in Nigeria aviation”
Isaac Balami, the President of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers says that Nigerian Airways ought not to have been liquidated in the first place.
“It was not a mere death of an airline. It was the demise of the only know airline superstructure in Nigeria – the best ensemble of airline professionals. It was the demise of Nigeria’s global standard aircraft maintenance system that had already attained B737 check D (highest maintenance procedure) in Nigeria by Nigerians. It was, therefore, the death of Nigeria’s dream to establish and operate an MRO soonest.”
“The defunct National Carrier was responsible for the production of well trained aviation professionals – in Piloting, Engineering, Marketing, Cabin Crew, Dispatch, and every facet of aircraft operation. Its death also killed this noble endeavour. And since the forced liquidation of the Nigeria Airways, no Nigerian Carrier has been able to go near its big shoes. None has even started to move in that direction.”
He welcomed the idea and mooted the idea for a Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility as part of the package but cautioned on engaging a foreign airline, or foreign MRO as technical partner
Kingsley Chima, an aviation analyst gave his views stating that corruption needs to be stamped out if the airline is to work the way Ethiopian Airways has.
“Before this decision/directive, have we done a thorough autopsy on the reasons that led to the death of Nigeria Airways? National Carrier is going out of fashion in this industry as it has been demonstrated in many quarters. National carriers succeed in countries were corruption is tightly managed as shown in the case of Ethiopian Airways.”
“When government starts appointing Directors and those start awarding elephant/juicy contracts, the airline will gasp for breath and die. Running is high cost and any cost that should be avoided has to be avoided. But with National Carrier in an environment like ours, I do not see this happening. “
“We can only have a competitive National Carrier if and only if; we make our airports efficient and effective. This will make transit facilitation a good experience, Government involvement must not be beyond 25% share, Technical partner own about 15%, institutional investors take the remaining. I am not optimistic but you never know.”
Deba Uwadiae, Editor-In-Chief Business Travel Publication said though we needed a national airline we also need attitudinal change if it is to thrive and asked the president to seek counsel from former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo on why he liquidated the airline and President Goodluck Jonathan on why he was not able to establish one.
“Nigeria of his old time as Head of State in 1983/85 is not Nigeria of 2015 where an airline can be conjured and it is established. He needs to reach out to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and ask him why Nigeria Airways was liquidated; he needs to reach out to former President Goodluck Jonathan and ask him why his government was unable to set up a national airline. There are a lot of booby traps on that path that will hurt his administration more than he can imagine if he decides to plunge into it. “
“Though, we need a national airline, at what cost at this point in time, when the Naira is counting at over N220 to $1? There are more fundamental needs for the Nigerian people than the government taking up a humongous project of setting up again a national airline at this time or the next four years of President Buhari.