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The imperative of national carrier

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A twelve-member committee raised by the Aviation Ministry worked on the modalities for the establishment of a new national carrier to replace the country’s erstwhile national carrier, the Nigeria Airways, scrapped by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 2003 over issues of insolvency and mismanagement.
Since its liquidation, certain of the indigenous airlines, tagged flag carriers, have been deployed to compete with almost 16 foreign mega carriers flying into the country.
Considering the size of the domestic airlines in the country, they are not enough to compete favourably with the foreign airlines. In fact, the number of the aircraft in the fleet of one of the megacarriers, outnumber the fleet of the domestic carriers all put together. No wonder there is an uncontrollable capital flight from the country running into $20 million annually. While launching the ministerial committee on aviation last August 24 on the directives of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Aviation Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Hajia Binta Bello, said the establishment of a new national carrier has become imperative not only for economic but also for strategic national interest, pride and job creation potential.
Following Alhaji Ahmed Joda’s Transition Committee Report, recommending that a new national carrier be packaged from a merger of the three airlines presently under the management of the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) because of their heavy indebtedness, especially to Federal agencies under the aviation ministry, the new National Carrier Committee was directed to work in unison with the corporation.
Now, the Committee may have submitted its report and it is expected that the National Carrier Committee should work hand in hand with the reports produced by the winding up panel on the defunct Nigeria Airways and other failed airlines in the country.
Worthy of note here, however, is the fact that the strategic stakeholders in the country’s aviation industry refuse to reason with former President Obasanjo on his decision to wind up the Nigeria Airways. They base their objection to Obasanjo’s action on the premise that the panel set up by him never, in fact, recommended the action he took; rather, it only recommended the divestment of public ownership with a view to making it run efficiently as a commercial airline backed by private initiatives. That being so, according to Hadjia Bello, the new administration is strongly of the opinion that the national carrier be resuscitated, hence the formation of the National Carrier Committee, mandated to explore the urgent possibility of incorporating a new national carrier, and to recommend to government an airline that will be run on public/private/partnership basis, presumably to save the proposed carrier from government’s bureaucracy and other the negative consequences of government interference.
Indications that the present administration would correct the error of the preceding administration and the one before it in this regard emerged during the electioneering campaigns, when President Buhari announced that if voted into power, he would establish a new national carrier with airplanes in the presidential fleet. At present, the presidential fleet alone has 11 aircraft, making it to rank as the second largest after domestic carriers. The head of state considers this too large, considering the huge costs of maintenance.
Stakeholders have hailed him for both his decision and argument, especially his desire to save the government from unnecessary costs at these lean times. The President had rightly considered that hard foreign earnings expended on checks and servicing of the presidential fleet done in overseas maintenance centres because local ones are not available, is unnecessary. This is explains why some experts have advised that government should hasten its plans to establish a new national carrier along with a comprehensive Maintenance Repairs facility, particularly as Nigeria plans to develop the Lagos airport into Africa’s aviation hub in the nearest future when the new terminals being constructed at the five international airports are completed next year.
It suffices to advise the government to consider some of the points raised by some informed stakeholders in the industry against the dissolution of the defunct Nigeria Airways but guard against certain pitfalls in running the proposed national carrier when it is eventually floated. First, Nigeria was the first among the British, German and French colonies in Africa to float its own indigenous carrier in 1958, after she indigenized the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) originally owned by the British government and flying into all its colonies and other destinations across the globe. At take-off, first as West African Airways Corporation (WAAC), the Nigeria Airways had initiated the idea of a Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) with other nations especially in those destinations where it was at a disadvantage in terms of the aircraft size deployed to such places.
The BASA agreement ensured that there was parity in frequencies by airlines flying into the country. The absence of the national carrier is responsible for the multiple entries of foreign airlines into the country with the consequence of killing the domestic sector of the aviation industry. Secondly, even though it went under over a decade ago, it was still earning revenue as the various BASA agreements we had with other countries keep on yielding revenue, part of which was spent on the remodelling of airport terminals by the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
It is hoped that the airline that will eventually emerge will be patterned after the defunct national carrier. For instance, as at the time it was liquidated, the Nigeria Airways had acquired the technical capability of conducting a D-Check (the highest maintenance procedure) in Nigeria by Nigerians on a Boeing 737 aircraft.
The defunct national carrier was responsible for the production of well-trained aviation professionals in piloting, engineering, marketing, cabin crew, dispatch and every facet of aircraft operation. Evidence of this is that the staff of the airline formed the bedrock of the industry and no indigenous airline has been able to step into the big shoes of Nigeria Airways in this respect.
There is no doubt the new national carrier will re-launch the pride of Nigeria in the comity of aviation world. It is only then that Nigeria will be seen as a true giant that has produced the present President of the Governing Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the world’s aviation regulatory body, in the person of Dr Babatunde Aliu, the country’s representative on the world body.

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