With the statement of President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday while receiving the President of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Dr Bernard O. Aliu at the State House, Abuja, one can surmise that he was visibly disappointed with where Nigerian aviation currently stands.
One can also conclude that the last may not have been heard of the issue of a national carrier, if the number one man’s body language is anything to go by.
The President had first stressed to the ICAO boss, the urgent need to ensure that the potentials of Nigeria are harnessed and used for the good of the country.
Declaring: “Nigeria needs to work on her potentials, so that we don’t remain permanently at the level of potentials.
However that was not the only thing he said as he compared Nigeria to Ethiopia stating that the horn of Africa is sustained by her airline industry and arguing that the nation has great potential in this particular industry.
His words, “If Ethiopia is sustained largely by her airline industry, we have greater potentials here. But we must move out, engage with the rest of the world, as we need to re-establish the integrity of this country. We need to rebuild this country again.”
Painting a clearer picture it would seem that the president may still have plans for a national airline for this country as that was one of the first thing he directed the Ministry of Aviation to look into establishing the moment he assumed office.
This is not the first time however that a national carrier has been touted for and not the first time those that clamoured for it have turned around to kick against it when they were no longer in power
A former Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka, in March said that Nigeria has no need of setting up a new national airline as canvassed in some quarters, saying the move would amount to sheer waste of funds and efforts.
He said,” I don’t believe Nigeria needs to venture into setting up a new national carrier. By the way, what do you classify as a national carrier? There are already many private sector investors who own airlines. Those are already national carriers because Nigerians own them.”
Clearly according to some industry players, the former minister did not stay in Aviation long enough to distinguish between a national carrier, a flag carrier and even a national flag carrier and is bound to say what he has said not knowing the benefits.
The former Nigerian Airways was liquidated because it was run aground but in liquidation, the assets of that company surpassed its liabilities and many still feel it was liquidated by the sheer yearnings of people who wanted to plunge the system into further mess.
Many however 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 Nigeria today many are quick to point out the negatives of a national carrier citing examples like the Air Ivorie (Which is back by the way), the Air Senegal (Also back by the way), GhanaAir and so on, these are a few of the failed airlines in Africa and our experts equate them with Nigeria.
Now on the positive note, there are airlines that are national carriers that have never been liquidated and have operated profitably for years and years and these stakeholders are not looking at those examples, one wonders why.
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 British Airways, Air France, KLM, Turkish Airlines are still operating and doing well and although these airlines are private carriers but they have strong government presence and influence.
There are the Middle East carriers that have in such a short time taken the world by storm; the Emirates, Etihad, 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 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.
And the argument most are making is that they are unable to change for the better, so because it was bad it would always continue to be bad, that is not progressive thinking.
As it is, there is a stall to the national carrier question but the question isn’t whether Nigeria needs a national carrier? It is how to establish it as commercially viable entity and not a socio –political and socio-cultural symbol flying in the air and mismanaged by a few.
The Emirates and Etihads and Qatars of this world learnt from the mistakes of mega carriers and are not making the mistakes those airlines have lived through partly because they are managed by some of these people who ran those airlines but in reality there is no airline that has not gone through what Nigerian Airways did but were BA, Air France or KLM killed?
In truth the establishment of a national carrier would absorb over 300 pilots and engineers who are trained and certified but currently without a job.
A national carrier also has the capacity to create over 15,000 direct jobs and 20,000 indirect jobs within a few years of establishment.