Nigeria has ambitious plans to launch a new national carrier in the first half of next year. While the country has a recent history of private startup airlines, it has been nearly two decades since all Nigerians had an airline to call their own.
Fresh life in an old idea
According to a Reuters report, the Nigerian Government wants to sell a 49% stake in the new airline to a financial institution or foreign airline. The Government would retain a 5% stake while the remaining 46% would be available to local businesses.
While plans for a new Nigerian national carrier aren’t new, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, breathed new life into the proposal this week at a news conference following a Federal Executive Council meeting.
The Minister proposed presenting a business case for the establishment of the national carrier. He says it was the sixth time the case for a national carrier has gone before the Council.
“The sixth time, we got lucky to be passed by Council,” Minister Sirika said at the news conference on Wednesday. “This airline will pick up and start, by God’s grace, on or before April 2022.”
US$150 – $300 million needed to get Nigerian Air in the air
Nigeria’s previous national carrier, Nigeria Airways, collapsed in 2003 in a mire of debt, safety issues, and mismanagement. Since then, private airlines have filled the vacuum. Most famously, Richard Branson set up Virgin Nigeria in 2000 but only lasted a decade. Branson quit Nigeria in 2010, citing political and regulatory interference.
In 2021, there is no shortage of active airlines based in Nigeria. They include Air Peace, Arik Air, Azman Air, and the newest kid on the block, Green Africa Airways. But all are in private hands, and none have national carrier status.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Hadi Sirika spoke about a recurring issue hampering aviation in Nigeria and across much of Africa – the absence of quality infrastructure. While the Nigerian Government says the new airline (tentatively named Nigerian Air) will need US$150 – $300 million to get in the air, he wants the private sector to fund infrastructure upgrades.
“Now, the only way, the quickest way that you can integrate Africa is by air because if you want to interconnect all 54 nations of Africa, via rail or road, or waterways, which is even impossible, the quantum of money that you need to do all of these, the time it will take to develop this infrastructure, as well as the maintenance cost, is almost prohibitive,” Minister Sirika said.
An ambitious timeline for Minister Sirika
Home to over 200 million people, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country. With inadequate road and rail infrastructure, air travel is a default option for the fast-developing country. But Nigeria, like much of Africa, is a tough market for airlines, local or foreign, to profitably operate in.
As Branson highlighted, the problems go beyond poor aviation infrastructure. Red tape, government interference, and a raft of ingrained socio-cultural have historically prevented airlines operating in Nigeria from reaching their full potential.
But Hadi Sirika insists Nigerian Air is viable. He says it’s a matter of getting the regulations and policy settings right to attract the necessary investment. However, Nigerian Air is a ministerial thought bubble right now, and it will be a busy six months if Hadi Sirika hopes to have the airline up and running by April.