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Nigeria Air receives its first aircraft

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By Abraham Adekunle

The Boeing 737-800 land in Abuja, met with water canon salute.

Since 2018 the Federal Government unveiled the logo of Nigeria Air at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK, the national air carrier is yet to take its first flight. There has been series of legal issues and protocol hindering its commencement of service. In April 2023, the higher legislative chamber had announced that the air carrier could not take off without the chamber having a say on it. This was stated on March 30, 2023, through the Senate’s aviation committee in an interactive session with stakeholders in the industry.

Senator Biodun Olujimi, the chairman of the committee, had revealed that the National Assembly were notified of a court injunction involving the Federal Government and local carriers preventing the Ministry of Aviation from going ahead with the planned air carrier. Initially, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had presented a roadmap to the National Assembly on how to achieve the project. The government had chosen the Ethiopian Airline group to have a 49 percent stake in the venture, the FG to have only five percent, and the rest to be taken from local inventors.

First aircraft was finally delivered after a long process.

Nigeria Air has taken delivery of its first aircraft in Abuja. The Boeing 737-800 with retrofitted winglets was spotted at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport (ADD) and has finally arrived in Abuja, Nigeria, where it was met with a water cannon salute. The delivery has caused mixed reactions among Nigerians, especially on social media where some are disputing the ownership of the plane. The Nigeria Air project has been in discussion for nearly eight years. With this delivery, the public patiently waits to see if the airline will be launched before May 29th as Minister Sirika had promised.

After assuming the presidency in 2015, Muhammadu Buhari promised to revive the national carrier before the end of his term. This was followed by a launch of the logo in 2018. However, the Federal Government has been in constant battle to achieve this goal. The aviation minister had even vowed after the elections to launch the national carrier before leaving office. The 737 has been branded with the airline’s name. As it awaits unveiling, the aviation minister believes that the outgoing administration has achieved the goal of launching it.

Many challenges faced in launching Nigeria Air.

Undoubtedly, the process of receiving this first aircraft has been challenging. According to the planned structure, Ethiopian Airlines (ET) has a 49-percent stake in the carrier, while the Nigerian government has five percent, with the rest belonging to the Nigerian Sovereign Fund. In April 2023, the CEO of ET Group, Ato Mesfin Tasew, said that the airline had agreed with the Nigerian government on all terms. However, the ongoing court case played a role in delaying the launch.

A group of Nigerian carriers under the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) filed a lawsuit against Nigeria Air to have its air transport license revoked. Last month, a Federal High Court in Lagos barred the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) from issuing the national carrier an Air Operators Certificate. The delivery of the new aircraft has heated the dispute between the AON and the aviation minister. Today, AON lawyers wrote a letter to the outgoing president asking him to stop the minister’s attempt to go against the court by launching the barred Nigeria Air project.

Can Nigeria Air defy the stereotype of the defunct Nigerian Airways?

It can be argued that Nigeria Air is a reincorporation of a national air carrier which was commonly known as Nigerian Airways. Nigerian Airways was founded in 1958 and ceased operations in 2003. The country owned 51 percent of the corporation and the model changed to 100 percent shareholding in 1961. Due to the failure of the Federal Government to commence to launch the carrier for eight years after the administration started, Nigerians have wondered if the new Nigeria Air will even take its first flight. Many are also of the sentiment that it would go the way of Nigerian Airways.

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