In this write-up, NigerianFLIGHTDECK examines the controversies trailing proposed national carrier, Nigeria Air, which culminated with last Friday’s unconventional launch of the airline seven years after it was announced at the Farnborough Air Show and some of the grouses stakeholders have against the airline.
Last Friday’s landing of an Ethiopian Airline Boeing 737-860 Max aircraft with registration Number ET-APL painted in the livery of Nigeria Air, an airline with no Air Operators Certificate (AOC) on what was described as a static display, is still stirring controversy.
In a bid not to end the regime after seven and a half years of procrastinating a national Airline, the outgoing Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, circumvented court orders to bring in an aircraft just to show Nigerian he was on course when in reality he had not gone anywhere with the AOC process.
Nigerians expecting the Nigeria Air to fly simply because there was an aircraft on ground which was Saturday May 27, flown back to Ethiopia are in for a rude awakening as the five step process stipulated by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority ( NCAA) for every legal airline in the country to get an AOC has not been met.
Already there have been findings on the eleven year old wet leased aircraft Senator Sirika was alleged to have gotten from Ethiopian Airline and painted in Nigeria air livery only a few days before the aircraft landed in Abuja on May 26, 2023.
The Boeing 737-860 Max ET-APL, Mode S Q4005C and serial number: 40965/4075 had its first flight was on June 22, 2012 as Ethiopian Airlines aircraft.
The aircraft became Malawi Airlines on February 16, 2014 and was returned to Ethiopian Airlines on August 12, 2015.
Funny though, as of 22nd May, 2023 just four days before the aircraft landed Nigeria for the display, it still flew under the livery of Ethiopian Airlines to Tel Aviv in Israel before it wás hurriedly painted and brought to Nigeria for the ground show.
Before the landing, there were rumours of an arm twisting battle between the Minister and some directors of the CAA who were said to be ready to hand in their resignations if the interference with their functions continued.
This was met by commendations as stakeholders called on Sirika to avoid truncating Nigeria’s hard earned certifications by interfering with the functions of the CAA which should be autonomous.
Then came a letter from the counsel of the Airline Operators of Nigeria ( AON) who took the Minister, Ethiopian Airlines et al to court over the process of the national carrier where an order to stay action on the said carrier was granted in November 2022.
Despite this, Sirika was hellbent on pursuing his own agenda and in an effort to blind side the court, a competent industry source revealed, the minister used a “technical landing in Abuja” to ensure the aircraft landed in Nigeria for the display.
The said aircraft is scheduled to fly to Turkey for interior decoration, but was diverted to Nigeria for public show and may as well have headed back voa Addis Ababa.
A source added that the reason for “technical landing” is to avoid the issue of “contempt of court” as being postulated by Airline Operators of Nigeria ( AON) in an official letter to President Mohammadu Buhari on Wednesday.
The AON and indeed many concerned Nigerians have continued to ask pertinent questions about the airline especially its local investment structure all of which answers have been shrouded in secrecy or at sixes and sevens.
The Minister on September 24, 2022 when announcing Ethiopian Airline, the preferred bidder of proposed national carrier also names local investors MRS, Skyway Aviation Handling Company(SAHCO) and the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority as Nigerian investors
However, in less than 24 hours after the announcement the Minister through his Special Assistant (Public Affairs), James Odaudu recanted and removed Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) as an Investor in the project in a statement titled: Error of Inclusion of SWIA as an Investor in Nigeria Air
This now led the investors to look thus: Ethiopian Airline with 49% stake while Nigerian private investors (SAHCO, MRS and other institutional investors) 46% and the Federal Government 5%.
The Airline Operators through its spokesman and Chairman United Nigeria Airlines, Professor Obiora Okonkwo in a television interview stated that the airline body is not against Nigeria Air but the process and form seem to suggest that there is nothing Nigerian about Nigeria Air.
He said the AON was in court with documents on the charade being masqueraded as a Nigerian project and said it was thankful to the NCAA that stood its ground as one document they have which is in court is a signed documents by the Minister and Ethiopian Airline to kill domestic carriers with predatory pricing in six (6) months.
On the aircraft that arrived he said, ” Nigeria has no stake in this aircraft by law both ICAO or NCAA any aircraft registered to Nigeria must carry a 5N registration mark. It is whether you bought outright or you have a dry lease on it and not when it is wet leased. None of the documents of this aircraft is domiciled with the NCAA.”
” We are thankful to the NCAA which showed resolve. If the Minister had been successfully it would have not been good. Aviation is a global market, the global community would have been questioning the credibility of our AOC but the AOC stood its ground.”
On equity and funds invested, Professor Okonkwo questioned that if there was any $250m talked about it would have been in the Central Bank
” They talked about $250m equity, we would like to know whose money, if it is money from Ethiopian Airline it would have been domiciled with the CBN, so who paid in $250m? He questioned.
Also Lawyer and Managing Director of Marriotts international, Barrister Chike Ogeah who spoke on the matter in a television interview also insisted that there was a subsisting court injunction against Nigeria Air for so many reasons.
He said,” Number one, you are talking about Nigeria Air and there are no shareholders as we speak. This is 2023 and we are not going to go into another kind of slavery. Now you say SAHCO, MRS are partners and the Nigerian Investors sill being the funds yet how much equity did you give them?
” You did not give them a seat on the board yet the Transaction Advisers they didn’t bring any money that I am aware of yet you gave them 3% equity and you actually gave them a seat on the Board. The whole thing is shrouded in secrecy and the opaqueness around the deal makes no sense.”
Funny thing though, the gentleman who was contracted as Transaction Advisor, Gabriel Tilmann also found himself as a member of the Board of Directors of the airline, another thing being challenged in court.
Meanwhile, among other reasons the AON has gone to court was the flagrant waivers and concessions granted including a 15 year tax break something Government has not granted any airline in the country and the matter of indemnifying loans, meaning the airline whose ownership is still questionable can go and pick loans from anywhere in the world and Nigeria would be held accountable for that.
Nigerians, no matter how sceptical, want to see their flag flying to other nations to relive the pride that was when the flying elephant took to the air and Nigeria as a nation needs a carrier that can help it balance the scales, curb capital flights and meet the need of its teeming flying masses, sadly, a vast many are convinced with all tje controversy around Nigeria Air, this is not it.