Nigerians were amazed when a lone plane landed in Abuja with inscription, ‘Nigeria Air’ signifying full take off of the much anticipated national carrier.
The Federal government anticipates that the Airline would generate $1 billion revenue within five years.
A Boeing 737-800 series with 180-passenger capacity was unveiled on Friday by the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, alongside the Managing Director of Ethiopian Airlines, crew members and other stakeholders in the industry.
However, initial plans by the Federal Government for the airline to commence operation with five aircraft is yet to be actualized as only one aircraft was launched but the Minister said there was plan to increase the fleet to 35 aircraft within five years of operations.
He said: “The airline is equal to the size of the market, the dynamics of the market of Nigeria, to its geography and the fortunes of the country.
Indeed, we do need the kind of infrastructure that we’re having today in the name of Nigeria Air Limited.
“This Nigeria Air Limited of course, obviously, it’s an entity known to Nigerian laws. There is a partnership between entrepreneurs in Nigeria and the entrepreneurs in Ethiopian Airlines Consortium. Consortium is a company belonging to many partners, and it’s a very long journey.
“We started in 2016 and it ended today. There is a history behind all of these. There were challenges down to one for that matter. We didn’t allow them to make us lose focus. We stayed with our eyes on the ball and today we are here.”
On why the Federal Government unveiled the airline despite an ongoing court case, he explained: “There’s no court that stops us from continuing to bring developmental projects to our people. The constitution of Nigeria is very clear that it is within their rights to go to court for whatever reason they want to go to court, and it’s also within our own rights to do all the things that will promote the general well being of Nigeria and Nigerians and this is one of it; the economy of Nigeria, the centrality of civil aviation and the promotion of the economy and the value addition to the GDP.
It’s very important and paramount and the focus of government and I can tell you that from the roadmap implemented, aviation became the fastest growing sector of the economy before COVID. Even with COVID we were the third fastest growing sector and this is the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics.
“So, it’s a noble thing we are doing and Nigerians are happy. Nigerians love this. So, this is the alternative. This is to show how to do airline business very well and to serve Nigerian people better. And like I said, it is not unhealthy competition.”
On when the airline would begin operation, the Minister explained that in the process of establishing an airline, there are conditions set by the regulator, which is Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
“So, this airplane will be here and we will commence the demonstration flight to show that we can do it. Normally, I think between zero to 40 hours, but it can be less. It can be five hours, it can be two hours and this is to ensure that we are able and we have the capacity to do it.”
The Minister said: “But of course you know about the partnership with Ethiopian Airlines. Nobody can doubt the capacity that this can happen. So, I know very well that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority will do the needful, and of course, give the clean bill to start to fly. So, this is part of the process. It’s the beginning of the establishment of the airline.”
Sirika said that it is envisaged that within the next five years, it will hit the 35 aircraft mark, adding: “You don’t come in one day to dump 35 aeroplane. You can’t come in one day and start going to London. So, it’s a gradual process. The aeroplane will be coming one after another. And until in the next five years, according to the business case, we achieve the 35 aircraft mark from there it continues.
“And don’t forget, this is a private sector led airline with the skin of the government at five per cent and there is no stripping rights by government. So, Nigerians are welcome and I am sure it’s going to go to the public for sale at some point for five per cent,” Sirika said.
Chief Commercial Officer, Ethiopian Airlines, Lemma Yadecha Gudeta, while commending the effort of the Federal Government, assured that the project under the watch of the Ethiopian Airlines, would foster economic development for the country.
Gudeta assured that Nigeria Air would be a $1billion project in five year’s time, stating: “As far as the initial business plan that we are working on in collaboration with stakeholders in the consortium, Nigeria Air will be a $1 billion company in five years time.
“As a company in Africa, which has operated for the last 77 years, Ethiopian Airlines is very much pleased to be part of the beginning of the Nigeria national carrier and we strongly believe that our presence here in Nigeria will serve as a way of supporting the economic growth of Nigeria.”