With what has happened with regards setting up a national carrier in the last four years of this administration, with all the intrigues and failed deadlines, ANTHONY OMOH looks at emerging trends especially in Ghana which has silently set their ball rolling with firm aircraft orders; and wonders if Project Nigeria Air will reach fruition at the rate things are going
ON November 19, 2019, in her quest to establish a national carrier; the Republic of Ghana and Boeing signed a Memorandum of Understanding on three airplanes with a list price value of $877.5 million with the West African country sealing another deal for Six (6) Dash 8-400 from De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited.
Both deals were sealed at the ongoing Dubai Air Show and then there have been other amazing deals including Air Peace’s firm agreement of a USD 212.6 million deal for three additional E195-E2 jets in addition to the ones already ordered and all expected from 2020.
These orders, these commitments, call to question the Nigerian government and by extension, the Federal Ministry of Aviation’s seriousness in actually setting up a national carrier among the other promises made initially when this administration came into power.
The point is no one seems to be asking what the true position of things are; and like a candle in the wind, another four years will elapse and nothing tangible will be achieved except for cheap talk.
After swearing-in of Ministers during the first term of President Muahmmad Buhari on November 11, 2015, Senator Hadi Sirika had already taken his campaign for key projects to be achieved to the media, both conventional and social.
The Minister laid out his cards insisting that, “the present administration is focusing on issues that will rapidly develop the aviation industry within the shortest possible time.” According to him, these issues include aviation safety and security, infrastructural development, the establishment of a national carrier, lack of a world class aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul, (MRO) facility in the country.
Others are: How to quickly develop our air cargo capacity in order to participate actively in multi-billion dollars global agro-allied export trade. The restructuring of the country’s aviation agencies and the setting up of an aerospace University in the country.
To date, the country is still waiting for the major trust of the Minister’s focus including the much vaunted national carrier, the Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO) facility, the Leasing Company as well as the Aerospace University.
Yes! somethings have been done, from the repairs of the Abuja Runway to other key safety critical issues but nothing yet to show on the promises made to establish a national airline or an MRO for the country.
- How things transpired between 2016-2018
In truth the Minister did start his national carrier campaign stating that Nigeria Air will take off with 15 leased aircraft on December 24, 2018 with additional plans to own 30 planes within three to four years.
According to him, the airline also hoped to fly to 81 domestic, regional and international destinations.
And on July 18, 2018 the Minister with heads of parastatals and ministry personnel went to the Farnborough Airshow in London to unveil a logo of the said carrier, Nigeria Air, that had no aircraft, no Air Operators Certificate (AOC) no Air Transport License (ATL) a move that earned the consternation of many within the industry and in the country generally.
From the road shows to United States, Canada, United Kingdom signing of Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) with aircraft manufacturers, technical personnel, Transaction Advisers, fast-track committee and possibly initial financial commitment out of the $300m earmarked as 5 per cent for the project by the Federal Government and several other millions of dollars were expended on an airline, which never flew.
What was hilarious was that before the suspension, Sirika at different fora declared that AOC and ATL could be secured within 90 days as stipulated in the requirements by NCAA and this was corroborated by Capt. Muhtar Usman, the then Director-General of NCAA.
- Nigeria Air’s suspension and Minister’s clarification on expended funds
In between that Airshow and the December 24th date of startup, there followed many allegations of payments made to certain quarters although the Minister came out to clarify what had transpired, all the back and forth over the next couple of months culminated with Federal Executive Council (FEC) on September 19, three months after the Farnborough fiasco and 95 days to the commencement of the airline, suspending the national carrier project.
About three weeks after the announcement of the suspension of the project and angry reactions from the members of the public on the alleged loss of billions of naira to the project, the government found its voice and attempted to put the record straight.
Sirika, who came out to clear the air on the actual amount of money expended on the project so far before its abrupt suspension declared that only N50m was so far incurred for the national carrier project, which he said the government was yet to pay at that time.
The government also denied payment of $600,000 to a foreign company for the design of the Nigeria Air logo. Sirika insisted due process was followed in the branding, which included obtaining “No Objection” Certificate with Reference number: BPP/RPT/18/VOL.1/075 from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) for the sum of N50,893,000.00, which he said was yet to be made.
- Ghana’s National Airline Relaunch Comparatively
Now, the Ghanaians without a vuvuzela have begun ordering brand new 787-9 to start their airline and Nigerians are beginning to ask questions ranging from the fact that if the country was indeed serious about a national carrier, would the budgetary allocation to execute the project not look serious enough to show there is intent?
According to Sirika, the government was expected to expend $55m the project in 2018, 2019; $100m while $145m is expected to be expended on the project in 2020.
First off, of $877.5 million earmarked to acquire aircraft by the Ghanaians outweighs the budgetary allocation for the national carrier project for 2018 and 2019 put together at US$ 301million (2018) and N4,694,131,965 (US$12,952,363.86) in 2019 and calls to question what the funds budgeted would be able to do.
The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) have advised more than once that setting up of a national carrier will cost Nigeria at least $3bn as a single B777 as of today costs about $320m.
Captain Nogie Megission also at some point asked,” Is it wise and our priority as a nation to take $3bn from the Nigerian coffers today and put into a venture that will for sure go down the drain within a maximum of five years to establish?
“Bearing also in mind that the national carrier will need an additional cash injection of $500m subsidy per year on average for the next 10 years to keep the airline afloat while about 97 per cent of the 200 million Nigerian masses today are grappling for the basic necessities of life; food, shelter, electricity, water, education and good roads?
- Is there any hope for a Nigeria Air?
As it stands, Nigeria Air is the 12th attempt at establishing a national carrier for the nation and is looking like the twelfth not to see the limelight because despite all the trumpeting the main intent is allegedly shrouded in secrecy giving the impression that the airline is being set up with plans to fail.
With the kind of meagre funding being put in this larger than life dream, industry watchers are waiting to see the Minister pull a rabbit out of hat for his final trick to wow Nigerians who have seen Ghana move far ahead in terms of creating a hub and establish a national airline without much ado.
The Ghanaians have thrown down the gauntlet, it is now left for Nigeria and indeed the Ministry of Aviation to put up or shut up