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Minister explains delay in take-off of national carrier

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The Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika

• Stakeholders fault govt over open sky pact
The Minister of State Aviation, Hadi Sirika, has said that government intends to build a national carrier that would stand the test of time.

Speaking at the recent stakeholders’ forum in Abuja, the Minister lamented that Nigerians are at the mercy of foreign airlines because the country has no national carrier. But, with a new national carrier come competition, options and better deals for the air travellers.

According to him, “We don’t want what happened to Air Nigeria to repeat itself because someone who just woke up from the left side of the bed decided to liquidate Nigerian Airways, and set up Air Nigeria which didn’t last. We want to build an airline that can challenge Ethiopian Airline.

“We don’t want to rush into establishing a national carrier, because if we fail, it would be disastrous and nobody will believe us again. So, we need to tread cautiously. We will fast-track, and be quick so that we can produce something that would stand the test of time,” he said.

The Senate Committee Chairman on Aviation, Adamu Aliero, in his remarks noted that the National Assembly was in full support of the national carrier as long as it is private sector driven while the government provide the enabling environment for the private sector to run it, adding that government should not play any role in financing or running it or else it would go the way of the Nigeria Airways.

He said the National Assembly was also in support of the concession of the four major airports, but urged government to be transparent enough and carry along all the key stakeholders.

Aliero said: “We don’t believe that concession of the airport would lead to massive retrenchment rather it would weed out inefficiency and dependency in the workforce, reduce corruption as revenue diverted into private pockets would move to proper place and invariably increase employment.”

He lamented that it is embarrassing that airlines go to Ghana to source for Aviation fuel despite the fact that the country has three refineries.

He was, however, enthusiastic that when the Aliko Dangote refinery is commissioned, the problem of Aviation fuel would be a thing of the past.

Meanwhile, the stakeholders have urged government not to rush into implementing the African Open Skies Agreement recently signed, as they urged the government to consider the viability and competitiveness of the Nigerian Aviation industry.

Chairman of the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON), Captain Nogie Meggison, said though it is good to open the African skies, there is need to be discreet about it.

He said: “We have signed the Open Skies agreement, but I think implementing it should not be in a rush, we should look into it and see how we can take full advantage of it. I would not say much on this but to say transparency should be at the fore front of all we are doing on these policies.”

The stakeholders also chided government for allowing Ethiopian Airline to land in five six airports in the country and also allowing British Airways to land in Lagos and Abuja. They recommended that all the foreign airlines should be limited to not more than two airports in the country, so as to create market for Nigerian Airlines.
They observed that there 26 airports in the country and most of them are dormant. But if the industry must grow, government must provide the enabling environment to make airlines thrive.

They advised that “government could allow British Airways go to Lagos while Virgin Atlantic goes to Abuja, so that they can drop the passengers for local airlines to pick them to their various destinations”

The Minister, in his response, said that the government had signed open skies with the United States for year and nobody raised an highbrow, adding that America with their huge carriers have the capacity to dominate all the airports.

He reiterated that government would not go into any policy that would destroy Nigerian businesses, noting that the purpose of governance and his role as minister were to promote businesses so that they would continue to create job opportunity and provide services.


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