National air operators in Nigeria, under the Air Operators of Nigeria (AON) umbrella, have said that the proposed partnership between the Federal Government and Ethiopian Airlines to form a national carrier which is expected to begin operations in December does not suit them. .
Airline operators said the deal amounted to opening the domestic airline market to a foreign carrier, a move they said could “decimate” the local airline industry and lead to capital flight.
AON spokesperson, Professor Obiora Okonkwo, who is also chairman of United Airlines, who disclosed in a statement made available to aviation correspondents, questioned the transparency and structure of ownership of Nigeria Air.
“We haven’t seen anything Nigerian in this Nigeria Air. It’s an interesting camouflage. The decision to create a national airline in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines is a political volte-face. People in government continued to demonize local operators.
“Airlines have collapsed in other parts of the world, not just Nigeria. What the aviation sector needs is support. The private sector will collapse with this arrangement (carrier Nigeria is going to lose a lot. It must not be allowed to continue. There is nothing Nigerian about this Nigeria Air,” he said.
According to AON, the proposed flag carrier would help Ethiopian Airlines establish its dominance in the African market, adding that the Ethiopian national carrier has concluded similar agreements in eight other African countries.
“This approach will decimate the local market. An agreement with Ethiopian Airlines will create cabotage. Ethiopian Airlines will come to our home market, lower fares (non-competitive fares) with the aim of taking over the market. The choice of Ethiopian Airlines will destroy our industry. We totally reject that.
“In anticipation of the single African air transport market, Ethiopian Airlines wants to dominate the African market. The government is supposed to support local carriers. Ethiopian Airlines has partnerships in eight other African countries.
“They currently have 135 planes. The airline’s CEO has announced plans to increase its fleet to 250 aircraft over the next five years. The intention is to enter the domestic market of all African countries where they have footprints.
“It is simply air colonialism. If we take all this into account, you will wonder whether or not the government has the interest of the Nigerian airlines at heart.
“With Ethiopian Airlines owning 49% of the proposed flag carrier, it would be difficult for Nigerian Air to fly intercontinental routes.
“We don’t think it’s the best thing to happen. It’s not authentic. We reject it. Nigeria Air will suffer no different fate than the defunct Virgin Nigeria which was unable to make it to the United States. This is clear in the regulations of the bilateral air services agreement,” he said.
Meanwhile, an aviation expert and aeronautical engineer, Babatunde Adeniji, has also questioned the carrier’s shareholding structure.
“I don’t share the sentiment. The arrangement is such that you are using public funds to bring in a competitor that will distort the market.
“We need to create a level playing field. How can we make the industry sustainable? There is a need for transparency in the whole process of creating a national carrier.
“Local carriers are not supported. Aviation fuel issues and forex access issues that affect their ability to service aircraft are not addressed.
“Everywhere we talk about the poor performance of Nigerian airlines but we do not support them. We have to help them grow,” he said.

By: Corlins Walter