- The proposed Nigerian national carrier’s first aircraft has been delivered to capital city Abuja
- The soft launch has been widely criticised as a failed attempt to redeem the outgoing administration’s image
- Local Nigerian airlines are legally contesting Nigeria Air’s launch, particularly the partnership with Ethiopian Airlines
- Critics allege the commissioned aircraft actually belongs to Ethiopian Airlines
Yesterday, Nigerian Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika unveiled the first Nigeria Air aircraft via a video he posted on his Twitter page.
In the video, a Boeing 737-8 aircraft with the Nigeria Air livery was seen navigating the runway and celebrated with a water cannon salute.
Sirika captioned the video, “We are here. To Almighty God be all the glory. It has been a very long, tedious, daunting and difficult path. We thank everyone for the support. This, by the will of God, will be for us and generations to come. Ya Allah make it beneficial for our country and humanity.”
Indeed, the arrival of the new Nigerian carrier has been a long time coming—about 8 years in the making.
Outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari first made known his plan to revive the African Giant’s national carrier back in 2015, shortly after he was elected for his first term.
The proposed national carrier was officially unveiled as “Nigeria Air” at the Farnborough Air Show in England in 2018, said to have a preliminary cost of $8.8 million and take-off cost of $300 million.
Buhari’s ‘Presidential Aviation Roadmap’ was supposed to see the carrier launched before his first term ended in 2019, but the project carried over into his second term as president.
In November 2021, Sirika announced that the airline would finally launch in April 2022.
However over a year later, the airline is yet to be operational and the authorities are sprinting to show something concrete before the current administration passes out come May 29—a farewell gift, if you will.
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In a haste to leave the semblance of a legacy behind after a cataclysmal 8-year rule, Buhari’s government has set out to convince the public that the airline is ready to launch, even with only one plane, a lawsuit by the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) and, consequently, no Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC).
Roadblocks to Nigeria Air’s Launch
Shortly after it was revealed to the public that Ethiopian Airlines (ET) would own a whopping 49% stake in Nigeria Air, a number of Nigerian airlines banded together via the AON to contest the airline’s launch in court.
The airline was estimated to take up an initial $8.8 million preliminary cost and another $300 million as take-off cost.
The eight local airlines, including Nigeria’s biggest airline Air Peace Limited, sued the Federal Government in a bid to get the court to stop the deal and withdraw the Air Transport License (ATL) which had already been issued.
The suit, which was filed in November last year, is largely based on local airline operators’ fears that giving so much control to a foreign airline will eliminate the level playing field in the local aviation market.
Just last month, the Federal High Court issued an order to the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) which precluded the issuance of the AOC to the proposed national carrier.
Without the AOC, Nigeria Air will essentially remain a pipe dream.
Still, the Federal Government has persisted with the partnership and had gone on to have its first aircraft delivered.
In response, the AON lawyers wrote a letter to President Buhari asking him to stop Sirika’s attempt to flout the court order by launching the carrier.
A Question of Legitimacy
According to Simple Flying, the B737 plane, retrofitted with split tip winglets, was spotted at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport (ADD) yesterday morning, before it made its way to Nigeria.
However, some critics, like Nigerian investigative journalist David Hundeyin, claim the aircraft’s commissioning was a sham.
Hundeyin alleged that the plane actually belonged to ET and was “rented and hurriedly repainted”.
He went on to share his findings from popular aviation sites ‘flightradar24’ and ‘Planespotters’.
According to him, the newly commissioned plane was an 11-year-old plane registered under the number “ET-APL” and was still actively in service of the East African carrier.
The plane had allegedly been flown to Tel-Aviv for the repainting before being flown back to Addis Ababa and finally, Nigeria’s capital city Abuja, where Sirika’s video was recorded.
There seems to be some veracity to Hundeyin’s claims as the aircraft is still shown to be operating under ET, according to flightradar24, a reputable live flight tracker.
However, Planespotters, a global civil aviation database, now shows that the aircraft is being operated under Nigeria Air, though the registration number listed is incomplete.
Moreover, it is noteworthy that the partnership between ET and Nigeria Air was originally supposed to see the former provide the latter with Boeing 737 and Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft.
Perhaps this is just the first of multiple aircraft deliveries ET will be making to the new carrier and the handover is yet to be fine-tuned.
Nonetheless, the dodgy appearance of the commissioning does not inspire confidence at all, especially in light of the government’s propensity for corruption.
In fact, it is a far cry from the promised launch of the fully operational national carrier which is supposed to return the West African country’s aviation sector to its former glory.
Sources: Aerotime Hub, Premium Times, Simple Flying