After 15 years of operating without the country's own branded airline, the federal government yesterday unveiled the branding and livery for a new national carrier, Nigeria Air, billed to be launched at the end of this year.
The defunct Nigerian Airways Limited, which was inaugurated on May 1, 1959 to give Nigeria its fledging National Airline during the tenure of Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola as minister of Aviation, stopped operation in 2003.
According to reports, while the national carrier was plagued by mismanagement, corruption and overstaffing at the time of closure, the airline had debts of more than US$60,000,000, equivalent to $78,115,051 in 2016.
Apart from its poor safety record, its operative fleet comprised a single aircraft flying domestic routes as well as two leased aircraft operating the international network.
But unveiling the logo of a new national carrier yesterday, Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, at a press conference at the Farnborough Air Show in London, disclosed that the name of the national airline is Nigeria Air, while the logo is Nigeria coat of arms with the national flag draping on it.
The minister explained that government will not own more than a maximum of 5 per cent of the new national carrier, even as it won't be involved in the running of the airline or taking decisions on who should run it.
According to him, the unveiling of the airline at the Farnborough International Airshow was borne out of the fact that, being the largest congregation of global aviation industry players, the event affords the best opportunity to market the airline to prospective investors and register it in the minds of all stakeholders ahead of its formal launch billed to take place in Abuja before the end of the year.
He said, "I am very pleased to tell you that we are finally on track to launching a new national flag carrier for our country: Nigeria Air. We are all fully committed to fulfilling the campaign promise made by our President, Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. We are aiming to launch Nigeria Air by the end of this year.
"This will be a National Carrier that is private sector-led and driven. It is a business, not a social service. Government will not be involved in running it or deciding who runs it. The investors will have full responsibility for this and the Nigerian Government will not own more than 5% (maximum) of the new National Carrier.
"We have selected 81 of those routes, 40 for domestic, regional and sub-regional, and of course international routes about 41. This airline, because it is a PPP, the investors put in their money and strategic partners would decide who runs the airline. This airline is a business and not a social service.
"It is not intended to kill any airline in Nigeria but complement it and promote it. It must be done in a right way so that it will be here to stay. Government will not hold shares beyond 5% at the top most. This airline is having the backing of the government".
Sirika thanked the Transaction Advisers led by AMG and the special Task Force who he said worked diligently to achieve the results so far and overcome the challenges involved.
He continued: "We obtained the Certificate of Compliance from the Nigerian Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) two weeks ago and can now go into the investor search. I am confident that we will have a well-run national flag carrier, a global player, compliant to international safety standards, one that has the customer at its heart.
"We hope to establish an airline that communicates the essence of our beautiful country, an airline we can all be proud of. Following extensive market research, the branding of our new airline, Nigeria Air, demonstrates a true flag carrier of our nation, soaring through the skies in the shape of our nation's eagle.
"The branding and naming of the new national carrier comes on the back of a social media campaign undertaken under the auspices of The Ministry of Transportation (Aviation), which invited Nigerian youth and students for their input and creativity to come up with a name for the new Nigerian flag carrier. The Facebook page and website name, yourairlinenigeria, engaged over 400,000 people up until the deadline for submissions, which was on 25th June 2018.
"In addition, detailed and extensive market research was commissioned by the Ministry of Transportation (Aviation), which involved focus groups across Nigeria and over 100 interviews with aviation stakeholders and professionals, politicians, Nigerian business owners, students and a broad spectrum of people across Nigeria.
"The research concluded that Nigeria is a proud nation with diverse populace, a strong cultural heritage and a people that are hungry for a unifying national flag carrier".
The minister further noted that the ministry of Transportation (Aviation) is also currently running an aviation road map that includes airport concessions, Aerotropolis, an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) center, agro allied terminals, the national carrier and an aircraft leasing company.
"The Nigerian Government will support the launch of the new flag carrier with viability gap funding, in a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement to deliver a national flag carrier, guided by the international ICAO standards, that will stand the IOSA audit from the start, and lead to a fast IATA membership for international operation", he added.
Sirika assured Nigerians and the international community that government had learnt a lot of lessons from the experience of the defunct Nigeria Airways and is now determined not to repeat the mistakes that led to its demise.
This, he said, informed the decision to take the Public Private Partnership (PPP) approach.
The unveiling of the national carrier was attended by a cross section of the international press, Nigerian dignitaries, stakeholders, aircraft manufacturers, prospective investors and a Nigerian government delegation.
Members of the delegation include permanent secretary in the Ministry of Transportation, S. Zakari; chairman, Senate committee on Aviation, Senator Adamu Aliero and chairperson, House committee, Hon Nkeiruka Onyejeocha.
Experts Warn Against Past Mistakes
Meanwhile, the unveiling of the name and logo the Nigeria's new national carrier, has attracted comments from aviation stakeholders and experts, with most of them cautioning the federal government against the repeat of past mistakes that frustrated Nigeria Airways Limited.
Reacting to the development, aviation experts urged the federal government to learn from the mistakes of the past, especially what led to the liquidation of the defunct Nigeria Airways in 2003.
In a chat with LEADERSHIP yesterday, secretary general of the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP), Comrade Saidu Abdul Rasaq, said that he does not support the way government is going about the new national carrier.
Saidu said, "Nobody does not want national carrier; it is the way they are going about it. How can you launch an airline when nothing is on ground? Where is the base? Is it going to be Abuja, Lagos or Kano? What type of aircraft are they using? If you want to manufacture, has it been ordered or will it be manufactured before December or produced down? These are the questions".
The ANAP scribe posited that it is wrong to launch a new aircraft with billions of Naira when the old workers of old Nigerian Airways have not been paid their severance allowances.
Also, aircraft engineer and former president of National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), Engr Isaac Balami, commended Senator Hadi Sirika, stressing that the actualization will make domestic airlines to come together as a team.
Engr Balami who described the unveiling as long overdue stated that he is also happy that the government listened to their advice of not giving the federal government many stakes in the airline.
Raising hope for private domestic airlines, Balami said, "The minister promised that he does not want to destroy the local carriers. We also know that it is not so easy for an individual to bring 10 or 20 aircraft to compete with the likes of Ethiopian airline. So, it is more realistic because federal government took our recommendations not to give government much percentage of the shares.
Emphasising that if government got too many shares, there would be a lot of interference, he added that with the small share the government is having, it means that one person will be at the board to represent the government.
He also said that, without government having controlling shares, the public would now have a lot of confidence that there would be proper structure and corporate governance to run a proper business.
On domestic airlines, Balami said, "The future could be bright. Of course, it is bright. From what the minister said, there is hope. Again somebody will be there in the national carrier to tell the government what the airlines are going through. The Warri and Kaduna refinery could produce aviation fuel and sell it for about N50 to N70 per litre as against N20 per litre paid.
"The cost of airlines operations could be cut down. For example, airlines like Arik that bears about N1 billion cost of aviation fuel every month can cut it down. Other issues such as lack of maintenance facility can be solved by the government partnering with serious organisations to maintain aircraft by way of C-checks in the country. There will also be the possibility of a world class catering service providers available. I commend the minister for the bold step".