Despite delays, ministry insists on July take-off date for Nigeria Air
Apparently unfazed by multiple delays in the buildup schedule, the Ministry of Aviation has said that the new national carrier will fly by July 2022.
The reassurance, made to The Guardian, was despite the non-readiness of the Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) and the Air Transport Licence (ATL), coupled with the ongoing search for bidders to drive the public-private venture – about a month to the July date.
Recall that the ministry had early this month extended the bidding process by one month, now ending on June 10.
Special Assistant to the Minister of Aviation, Dr. James Odaudu, said the July date remains sacrosanct as the interim management of the airline was busy working to ensure the take-off on schedule.
Odaudu explained that the one-month extension of the bidding process was in lieu of requests made by bidders and potential off-takers.
“Yes, people are wondering if we will still keep to the July date. Sure, the date remains and the extension will not affect the starting date because there is interim management in place to hand the airline over to the bidder once the process has been completed. We remain on course,” he said.
Since 2018, the opening date for the proposed national airline has been postponed several times. Stakeholders are worried that the minister is in a haste to egg on “a hard-sell” at the twilight of the current administration.
Secretary-General of the Aviation Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said he did not understand the logic of a government that has only a five per cent stake in the project, going ahead to float it when the other 95 per cent shareholders are not ready nor known.
Ojikutu said it suggested more of another government-owned airline than a public-private national carrier, and it would not fly.
The national carrier, already christened Nigeria Air, was to replace the defunct Nigeria Airways which ceased operations in 2003. The replacement was designed as a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with the Federal Government owning a marginal stake.
Findings showed that the project has racked up a total of N14.65 billion in appropriation votes between 2019 and 2022. About 40 per cent of the sum (N6.25 billion) has been channelled to working capital, consultancy and transaction advisers’ fees.
At the commencement of the bidding process in March 2022, Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, reaffirmed that the Federal Government would own a five per cent stake in the airline while the general public will own 46 per cent and the international partner airlines take 49 per cent shares.
“I believe that by April (2022), we should be able to have our AOC ready, which means we are ready to start. And once the AOC is in our hands, the offices are secured, the interim board is being constituted, and when they finish signing the contract, we will announce who they are.
“Currently, they are called interim because they will hold the airline on an interim basis up to the time the investors will come and take over. The interim members are noble people, some are Nigerians, and some are not. I think there are about nine of them running the airline and they will begin operations between now and July,” the minister had said.
A stakeholder, who did not want to be mentioned, said the “noble initiative” began with wrong footings and had continued in errors that naturally discredit its merits.
“We live in a country where nobody can trust politicians or the government. The reason is simple, you can easily pick holes in their claims. Who starts an airline first and then begins to search for bidders? We have been at this junction since 2018. What is the hurry all about in this season of politics? If it is another political dummy, it will not fly,” he said.
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