Who Needs Another National Carrier?

We do not need it; it would end up as another monument to waste President Muhammadu Buhari last week directed the Ministry of Aviation to quicken the modalities toward the establishment of a national carrier. But the pertinent questions remain: do we need a national carrier, after the dismal record of the Nigeria Airways and Virgin-Nigeria? On what model will the flag carrier be based and what would be the funding plan? Those questions must be addressed by the authorities before embarking on what could turn out as another expensive misadventure.

We recall that just about two years ago, the then Aviation Minister, Ms Stella Oduah said that the federal government was considering floating a new national carrier which, when eventually operational, would allow private equity and would be professionally managed. Against the background that the country had demonstrated with abundant clarity in the past that she was incapable of managing this line of critical business, we opposed the idea at the time and there is nothing to suggest that anything has changed to make us review our position on the issue.

To be sure, we have nothing against the idea of a national carrier. In fact, as we have repeatedly highlighted on this page, given the size of our nation, the huge population and the mobility of our people, there are sufficient grounds to argue for a national carrier. At present, the country loses so much money to foreign airlines because there is no national carrier with adequate network of routes or the capacity to operate extensively many of the highly lucrative routes. The few private airlines that attempt to do that do not have the wherewithal and capacity to finance extensive foreign operations. Moreover, a national carrier is not just restricted to carting passengers to their various destinations. It projects the country's image, culture and is indeed, a tool of international relations.

In fact, we concede that Ethiopia Airways is well organised and managed by a nation that does not have the human and financial resources that we have. A-Sky, a private airline from Benin Republic, is also servicing the West African subregion, a role well suited to be played by Nigeria. So beyond economic benefits, national carriers confer bragging rights and national brand exposure. Notwithstanding, no matter how patriotic we may feel about the issue, we still believe that going back to the era of our inglorious past is a misplaced nostalgia.

At its peak, the then national carrier, Nigeria Airways had over 30 aircraft in its fleet. But by the time it was eventually liquidated in 2003 by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration with barely two aircraft, it had become a huge liability as well as an object of national shame and international ridicule. Some of the aircraft were seized abroad because of indebtedness. Salaries were hardly paid. At one of the most ludicrous moments in 2002, after more than a 24 -hour delay on a Lagos-bound flight from New York, a passenger had to lend the airline $5000 to buy fuel!
Today, there is nothing to suggest that appreciable lesson has been learnt as evident in the debacle that followed the federal government arrangement with Virgin Airlines under the kind of Public Private Partnership (PPP) model that is now being suggested again. In any case, most nations are divesting from airlines businesses because they are better run by the private sector. To compound the problem, the nation's aviation industry is currently going through financial stress and many of the airlines are highly indebted.

Given the foregoing, we feel that the proposal for a national carrier is no more than an idea for a prestige project that would end up as another monument to waste at a time Nigeria needs all the resources it can muster to meet pressing needs. We therefore urge the Buhari administration to perish the idea and tackle instead the real challenge facing the aviation sector.

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By 9jatravel / Administrator, bbp_keymaster

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on Aug 26, 2015

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