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Aviation minister suspends Nigeria Air

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By Abraham Adekunle

Legal issues continue to challenge the carrier’s certification process.

Nigerian Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, has temporarily suspended the launch of the proposed national carrier Nigeria Air until all matters that are “allegedly non-transparent” are solved. Ethiopian Airlines CEO Ato Mesfin Tasew had stated that the project was slated to commence operations in October, but it had failed to take off before the end of former aviation minister Hadi Sirika’s term. The Ethiopian airline will still retain a 49 percent stake in Nigeria Air as planned.

Festus Keyamo was recently appointed and inaugurated by President Tinubu on August 21, 2023. He has a number of pending issues ahead of him, including the launch of the national carrier, the issue of blocked airline funds (amounting to about $800 million), and the development of airport infrastructure. Keyamo would work with the aviation roadmap, originally developed in 2016 by the previous administration. While on a tour of Lagos Murtala Muhammed International Airport (LOS), the minister said that the launch of the national carrier would be put on hold until further notice.

National carrier is still entangled in several legal issues.

Later, he posted on X that the aviation ministry has not taken any final decision on the airport concession and national carrier. He said that they were only suspended until all allegedly non-transparent processes that led to the decision are reviewed. “All complaints are assessed for the benefits of Nigerians,” he posted. Meanwhile, the proposed national carrier remains entangled in several legal issues. The carrier’s certification process was expected to resume in September 2023, but various local carriers under the umbrella of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) continue to challenge it.

A lawsuit was filed against Nigeria Air to have its air transport license revoked. As a result, a Federal High Court in Lagos had barred the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) from issuing the national carrier an Air Operators Certificate. However, last week, the chief justice of the Federal High Court reversed AON’s decision to transfer the lawsuit against Nigeria Air from Lagos to Abuja. The matter will continue in the Federal High Court in Lagos.

Minister ordered int’l airlines to relocate to a new terminal.

During the Lagos Airport tour, the minister ordered the immediate relocation of all international airlines to the new terminal at LOS. The old terminal building will be shut down on October 1 in preparation for renovations. Concerns have been raised over the handling capacity of the new terminal. Nearly 18 months since it was officially opened, the $100-million facility remains underutilized due to its lack of adequate apron space. This design flaw means that the new terminal cannot accommodate widebody aircraft.

Ethiopian Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Qatar Airways, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, British Airways, Air France, KLM, and Lufthansa are among the international carriers using Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 1. All of them operate a wide range of twin-aisle aircraft, including the A340, A350, B777, and B787. Despite the concerns, the minister has given all foreign carriers until the end of September to relocate. Also, the government will procure buses to transfer international passengers to where widebody aircraft will be parked.

Keyamo addresses several complaints received.

Further, he highlighted that he had received several complaints about the old terminal building since coming into office. These include congestion, malfunctioning lifts, and lack of air conditioning. The ministry plans to fix all the issues with the terminal and bring it up to standard. The minister noted that the Lagos Airport should give a good impression as the first point of entry for international travelers. With the failure of the Federal Government to commence the launch of the carrier even eight years after the administration started, Nigerians have wondered if the new Nigeria Air will even take its first flight.

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