Sunday, 1st October 2023

 Between AON, United Nigeria and Nigeria Air

By Kunle Bankole
07 June 2023   |   3:01 am
Nigerians woke up to the news of the unveiling of Nigeria Air on Friday, May 26, 2023. The Federal Government of Nigeria has been on this national carrier project for a long time, so it is good to see that finally, the project is at this present stage.

Nigeria Air’s launch

Nigerians woke up to the news of the unveiling of Nigeria Air on Friday, May 26, 2023. The Federal Government of Nigeria has been on this national carrier project for a long time, so it is good to see that finally, the project is at this present stage.

From what the former Minister of Aviation (Hadi Sirika) under former President Muhammadu Buhari said, Ethiopian Airlines, following competitive bids, were selected as the preferred technical partners.

He also said that unlike the arrangement of the past, under the defunct Nigeria Airways and Air Nigeria, Nigeria Air will be fully private sector-driven. Ethiopian Airline Consortium has 49 per cent shareholding in the joint venture, Nigerian Institutional investors have 46 per cent while the Federal Government of Nigeria has five per cent shareholding in the new National Carrier.

Obviously, it is in our national economic and strategic interest to have a national carrier. The benefits are many. For example, several jobs will be created. There will be job roles for pilots, engineers, flight attendants, office staff such as accountants, Human Resources personnel and so on.

Support services including caterers and cleaners etc will also be required. Nigeria can earn foreign exchange from people buying tickets in foreign currencies as the airline will operate both domestic and international routes. Foreign investors will come in, and Nigeria will be able to fully utilise its many airports. Many of them are underutilised at the moment. Nigeria Air will fly to those destinations following viable economic models. There will be increased training for airline staff, and the establishment of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities in Nigeria.

We all know what airline passengers are suffering at the moment in the hands of airline operators: Incessant flight delays and cancellations, poor services and high ticket costs. Nigeria Air will lead to increased competition in Nigeria’s aviation industry and it is the passengers that will be the ultimate beneficiaries. There will be more choices for air passengers. With the setting up of Nigeria Air, Nigeria will also be able to fully utilise the Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) it has signed with other countries.

Perhaps, it is as a result of fear of competition that some operators under the aegis of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) have been battling the setting up of Nigeria Air. What have they to lose if not that they want to maintain the status quo and keep on depriving Nigerian air travellers of good services? Are members of AON more patriotic and intelligent than officials of the Federal Government including the Ministry of Aviation, Federal Executive Council, FAAN and other stakeholders that have diligently pursued the setting up of Nigeria Air?

It’s surprising that on the same day that the unveiling of Nigeria Air took place, Prof. Obiora Okonkwo, Chairman of United Nigeria Air, was on national television de-marketing Nigeria Air on behalf of AON. He knew the truth and chose to lie on national television just for selfish economic reasons. It is only in Nigeria that non-patriots like Okonkwo will walk around castigating the Federal Government and sabotaging its efforts, in this case, the setting up of Nigeria Air.

According to reports, Nigeria Air will begin full flight operations by the third quarter of 2023. What happened on May 26, 2023 was only an unveiling. It was done in collaboration with Ethiopian Airlines, the winning technical partner to the project. Members of AON wonder why Ethiopian Airlines should be selected as the preferred partner, but chose to be blind to the open and transparent process that led to their selection in line with international best practices, and along the guidelines of Nigeria’s Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC)

A simple Google search would have shown Okonkwo and his AON colleagues that Ethiopian Airlines has over 77 years of successful global airline experience. They are the largest carrier in Africa and rank amongst the 30 largest airlines in the world. Ethiopian Airlines earned $6 billion in revenue and about $1 billion in profits in 2022 alone. They have over 140 modern aircrafts in their fleet and have been operating successfully in Nigeria since independence. That’s a good pedigree.

While we do not like to hear about negative incidents in our aviation sector since a sustainable ecosystem is what we all desire, Okonkwo should better devote his time to managing his United Nigeria Air and running it as a safe and reliable carrier. Just on the morning of Thursday, June 1, 2023, Nigeria’s major news channels reported that a United Nigeria Airlines, Embraer 145 flight with 50 passengers on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, skidded off runway 18L at Murtala Muhammed Airport terminal II in Lagos. The aircraft flew in from Chuba Okadigbo Airport in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, when the incident happened. Investigators are already looking into this incident.

United Nigeria Air, which also flies the Anambra Airport route, has also not done much on that route. It is still flying its small jets on that route. It was cringe worthy watching Okonkwo on national television praising his colleague, Allen Onyema of Air Peace and talking about the number of aircraft Air Peace planned to bring in later in the year.

He struggled to sell Nigerians a dummy that Air Peace should have gotten the technical partnership with Nigeria Air. Okonkwo should have been talking about the aircraft United Nigeria Airways planned to bring in. Air Peace is not United Nigeria and he should stop hiding under AON to wage a proxy war against Nigeria Air, and indirectly against the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Such shameless and ignoble blackmail will not work. Nigerians are wiser. Nigeria Air has come to stay and will fly Nigeria’s flag to near and distant destinations. This should be a source of pride for us all.
Bankole, an Aviation enthusiast, wrote from Abuja.