Nigerian Aviation: Is Nigeria Ready for a new national carrier?

WOLE SHADARE writes that for many countries, the national airline is a national symbol in itself, and a number of countries have developed a reputation for excellent service in their national airlines. One can also argue that the United States is one of the few countries in the world without a national airline. So, the debate goes on. Does Nigeria need a national carrier?

THE call for a national carrier is becoming louder by the day. And the call seems to be enjoying the support of many stakeholders.
Nigeria Airways ceased operations in 2003
 Although there are those who hold the view that the sector does not need to expend so much energy and fund to pursue what they believe could end up the way of the liquidated Nigeria Airways.
They posited that the 13 flag carriers could equally fill the gap created by the absence of a functional national airline.

This argument is valid, but the question is, has any of the designated Nigerian airlines really done well to earn the respect of Nigerian travellers? The answer is no. For obvious reasons, these airlines have not been able to compete with their foreign counterparts that have dominated the country’s airspace.

The existing Nigerian flag carriers do not have the type of branding that can sell them outside the shores of the country to reflect Nigerian. Their identity outside Nigerian airspace is not only opaque ,but non-existent; the reason they record very abysmal load factor on routes regarded as very lucrative.

The Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah-Ogiewonyi has not hidden her desire to give the country a functional, respected national carrier. She however disclosed that the Federal Government was already working on the legal framework for the floating of a new airline.

Can Nigeria build a new flag carrier from the ashes of Nigeria Airways?
Just this week, she further disclosed that the airline would be established next year.

The minister reportedly said there had been calls for a new national carrier to boost the nation’s image internationally and to realise the dream of making Nigeria an air transport hub.

She said they were working on a national carrier that will be publicly owned with limited financial contribution by the government, with government acting as a regulator and provide an enabling environment for this objective to be achieved.

“We recently reviewed the models of national carriers in other countries and we are working on the best solution for Nigeria. We are working to deliver the national carrier by next year.”

There are indications that the government may buy over one of the leading Nigerian carriers that is already wobbling on its international operations, privatise it and run it professionally like British Airways, Air France, Virgin Atlantic, Kenya Airways and others that have become very profitable.

In Europe, these airlines were previously owned by governments, before they were privatized. A good example is BA.

The minister may have been encouraged to go on with her dream, considering that a well respected and privatised national airline could help project the image of Nigeria outside Nigeria, help the country to partake in the huge aviation market and international foreign relations.

Many have equally expressed the fear that the ‘Nigeria factor’ bug may render this project not workable, except the government is ready to only provide the regulatory framework to make it work.

President, Sabre Travel Network and former Executive Director, Bellview Airlines, Mr. Gabriel Olowo described the development as a drift in policy implementation if a new national airline becomes a reality in 2012.

“We must be wary of any future attempt to favor the new National airline to the detriment of the existing flag carriers similar to the discriminatory treatment meted out by government to the defunct Virgin Nigeria which threw the airline into early crisis that made its principal promoter Richard Branson to eventually divest his interest”.

Aviation consultant, Mr. Cris Azu Aligbe had thrown his weight the move for a national carrier with the provision that it must be professionally run as a privatized entity.

He noted that no Nigerian airline has the capacity to fill in the gap, adding that with a national airline in place, reported capital flight will be greatly reduced, just as he painted a very gloomy picture even for an airline that pride itself as the biggest airline in West Africa.

Many are of the opinion that national carrier project can work in Nigeria, only if government go about it in a very transparent manner, devoid of the usual lackadaisical attitude attached to running companies in Nigeria
 Republished from Nigeria Guardian News
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