Litigious Nigeria Air 98% completed, takes off before May 29 – Sirika

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The minister of aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, said the controversial national carrier, Nigeria Air, will start operation before President Muhammadu Buhari ends his tenure on May 29.

Sirika spoke at aviation stakeholders’ forum held in Abuja yesterday.

He said the project was 98 per cent completed.

However, the minister said the latest deadline was another proposed date for the take-off of the airline which has already been challenged in court.

Recall that the local carriers under the umbrella of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) sued the federal government, asking the court to stop the new national carrier as it would get unfair advantages over other airlines in the country.

In November 2022, a Federal High Court in Lagos issued an order of interim injunction restraining the Nigerian government from proceeding with the establishment of the national carrier.

In February 2023, the minister said he was not aware of any court injunction barring the commencement of the airline and that it would commence operations soon.

Speaking yesterday, Sirika said all was set to launch the airline.

“All of the roadmap items except, perhaps the airline which in my opinion is at 98 percent completion, and we will fly within these remaining two months by the grace of God.

“Operation of local and international flights will commence soon. Before the end of this administration, before May 29, we will fly.

“Negotiation meetings with the Ethiopian Airlines Group Consortium and the Federal Government of Nigeria is ongoing. Next step: Federal executive council approval of the full business case.

 “We will also finish the concessions. So, all those things we said we would do when we came in, we did them. Before the end of this administration, before May 29th, we will fly,” he said.

The minister said the national carrier would help tackle unemployment in the aviation industry.

“Fifty pilots came to me saying that they had no jobs. We could easily employ them if we have a national carrier. It’s part of the benefits.

“China is about producing over 300,000 pilots to man its aviation industry.  But here, our own pilots are without jobs”, he said.

Besides, the minister said the national carrier will contribute to the country’s GDP, facilitate hospitality and tourism, facilitate growth and development of the Nigerian agricultural sector, and create jobs around the agro-cargo terminals.

Furthermore, he said the airline will reduce the incidence of capital flight, maximise the benefits of the Bilateral Air Services  Agreement (BASA), Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), as well as the development of an aviation hub.

Commenting on the legal hurdles to stall the operation of the national carrier, the minister said Ethiopian Airlines consortium offered a better proposal and as such emerged the preferred bidder.

The minister said except for Overland Airways, he approached international and domestic airlines about partnering with Nigeria Air.

“When we were setting up Nigeria Air limited, my gut feeling is to partner with airlines that I think will add value, with financial experience and high profile such as Emirate, Qatar, Lufthansa, and the rest of them.

“Those who worked closely with me know that this is my forecast and what I wanted because I believe if you partner with Lufthansa for example, automatically you will have license to fly.

“I thought we would do that, and I made attempts to reach them and invite them, as I did with all airline owners in Nigeria, except Overland.

“I reached out to them personally to come and partner to create a strong airline but fast forward, we had a bidder, Ethiopian airline,” he said.

He stated that Ethiopian Airlines offered a better proposal and as such emerged the preferred bidder.

“I was very happy that we got them (Ethiopian) to come. It was not my choice but I am happy now knowing what I know.

“They are a household name, strong, and they have been in business for 70 years unbroken and they have over 200 aircraft.

“So, I am very glad we are partnering with them and it is a reality.

“Some airlines are in court and their grouse is that it can be any airline in the world but not Ethiopian because, in their own way, they think Ethiopian is a competitor,” he added.

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