Nigeria Air To Begin Service Before End Of May - SIMPLY FLYING
BYJONATHAN E. HENDRY
The new national airline is due to begin operations from Lagos by the end of the current administration.
Nigeria's aviation minister confirmed this week that the country's upcoming national airline, Nigeria Air, is still on track to launch by the end of May. The comments came at the 2023 National Aviation Stakeholders Forum, where Nigerian Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, also confirmed that the government was releasing more funds due to foreign airlines.
The country's original flag carrier, Nigeria Airways, collapsed twenty years ago, and efforts have been underway for several years to revive it. The original airline was rebranded into Nigeria Airways in 1971 following the dissolution of West African Airways Corporation, which was founded in 1958. Nigeria Airways was also based at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, home of the upcoming Nigeria Air, and operated for 45 years before ceasing operations in 2003.
An influx of jobs
The minister expressed his excitement for the new airline to create additional employment opportunities. Mr Sirika claimed in his comments that Nigeria was the only country where qualified pilots struggle to find work, as countries worldwide struggle with pilot shortages. Upwards of 50 pilots have approached the aviation minister complaining about their unemployment status, which he said underscores the point that the national carrier should be able to employ more pilots and create other job opportunities.
The minister continued by promising the national carrier will contribute to Nigeria's gross domestic product, grow the hospitality and tourism industries, promote the agricultural sector, and create more jobs. A separate study has found the country's aviation sector is vital to the national economy by providing 241,000 direct and indirect jobs and an annual contribution of $1.7 billion.
The upcoming airline has faced several setbacks, including a legal challenge from local airlines that feel they were unjustly excluded from the bidding process. Sirika on Thursday, however, expressed his firm determination to have the airline running by the end of May:
“Local and international flights will commence soon by May 29. Negotiations between the Ethiopian Airlines Group Consortium and the Nigerian government are ongoing. The next step is for the country’s Federal Executive Council to approve of the full business case."
Over 16 million travelers passed through Nigerian airports last year, an increase of 9 million from 2020. The coming years will undoubtedly be even busier for Nigerian aviation. Local airlines, including Air Peace, Ibom Air, and Overland Airways, are expected to receive up to 40 new aircraft over the next 36 months.
Releasing additional airline funds
The minister further confirmed on Thursday that the government was actively releasing funds claimed by foreign airlines, which they have been unable to repatriate due to a lack of dollars in the nation. The total amount airlines have failed to repatriate from the country is said to have risen to $743.7 million in January, up from the $662 million remaining at the end of 2022.
While Sirka did not confirm a timetable for releasing the trapped funds, he did offer specifics for which airlines are currently receiving funds. Of the total amount, some $216 million goes to IATA airlines and $201 million to Qatar Airways, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The aviation minister confirmed the government is "Doing our best to get the monies released" and added that Emirates Airlines had received the majority of its funds with only around $35 million still to be collected.
The airline was most recently granted its air operator's license (AOC) in June. It is still in court proceedings over its deal with Ethiopia Airlines to contribute its operational expertise and fleet to relaunch the new Nigerian carrier. The agreement calls for the Nigerian government to retain a 5% stake in the new airline, with Ethiopian Airlines taking 49% and Nigerian investors claiming the remaining 46%.
"Ethiopian Airlines, the offered bidder for the national carrier, is highly competent and profitable enough to add value to the Nigerian aviation sector," Sirika noted in response to questions regarding the matter on Thursday. Domestically, members of the Airline Operators of Nigeria, including Azman Air, Air Peace, MaxAir, United Nigeria Airlines, and TopBrass Aviation, have filed a lawsuit claiming that the ownership arrangements of the new carrier give it an unfair advantage and claims that Nigerians should wholly own any new national airline.