The Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, has assumed office with no plans to re-invent the wheels in the aviation sector, thereby sticking to the aviation roadmap started by Hadi Sirka.
But, some aviation experts who spoke in separate interviews with our correspondent in Abuja, advised otherwise, particularly on issues bothering acquiring a national carrier, concessioning of airports, among others.
Prior to Keyamo’s appointment as Minister of Aviation and Aerospace development by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the aviation sector under the leadership of Hadi Sirika, experienced a litany of challenges that spawned internal wrangling of sorts, safety concerns, high operation costs, including aviation fuel, inadequate funding, lack of skilled manpower.
Others are: Union strike, Sustainability of Waiver on Aircrafts and Spares, Budgetary Constraints, Unemployment, Decaying/ageing infrastructure and obsolete equipment, poor and Intolerable condition of airport facilities and equipment, among others.
Of all these challenges besetting the Aviation sector, the national carrier, Nigeria Air, was one of the biggest controversial topics that raised the eyebrows of not just Nigerians, but the international community.
One major controversy surrounding Nigeria Air is the lack of transparency and clarity surrounding its operation. The government initially announced plans to partner with private investors, but there has been limited information provided on the identities of these investors and the specific financial arrangements. Critics argue that this lack of transparency raises questions about the airline’s viability and accountability.
On several occasions, Mr Sirika assured Nigerians that the national airline would commence operation before the inauguration of a new administration on 29 May.
The former minister further said negotiations between the Ethiopian Airlines Group Consortium — which emerged as the highest bidders for Nigeria Air, and the Nigerian government were in progress and that the next step would be the Federal Executive Council approval of the “Full Business Case.”
In September last year, Mr Sirika announced at a press briefing in Abuja that Ethiopian Airlines emerged as a core investor in Nigeria Air with a 49 per cent shareholding. Many Nigerians were suspicious of the plan and opposed the use of limited public funds for the national carrier.
The decision to settle for Ethiopia Airlines was challenged in a suit filed by local airline operators who claimed they could manage Nigerian Air better than a foreign airline would. The operators asked the court to stop the deal with Ethiopian Airlines.
However, three days before leaving office, the former minister unveiled the airline at the ceremony, with a single aircraft belonging to Ethiopian Airlines which was repainted in Nigeria’s national colours. FEC had approved the acquisition of three aircraft.
The development further heightened concerns among Nigerians, as many took to social media to question the move and Mr Sirika’s handling of the airline’s proposed operation.
But, setting an agenda for the new Minister of Aviation and Aerospace development, the former military Commandant at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Group Capt. John Ojikutu, recommended that efforts be directed towards strengthening existing flag carriers, rather than pursuing the previously proposed plan for launching a national airline.
He argued that such a shift in focus will be more beneficial for the overall growth and development of the aviation industry.
“There should no longer be any consideration for National Carrier but Flag Carriers at least two for a start to operate on the neglected BASA Routes. One for Regional and Continental and the other Intercontinental. But each of the Flag Carriers must sell at least 30% of its shares to the public at the stock market or Nigeria Stock Exchange because the market in BASA for commercial exploitation is a Nigerian Commonwealth”, he said.
He also called on the new minister to urgently concession Airports so as to get the government off the yearly financing of maintenance, among others.
“Airports Concessions should go on urgently so as to get the government off the yearly budgeting for financing their periodic maintenance and developmental projects.
“However, each international airport should go for concessions with at least four domestic airports. Secondly, only the non Aeronautical services for concessions and the Aeronautical services like the runways and Taxiways could be excised to NAMA and FAAN be made a Holding Company.
“Thirdly, the Airport Security and it’s Defence Layers should remain our obligations to ICAO and the responsibility of the government. Government must set up a National Air Traffic Services to include the NAF in the management of the Airspace to be routinely monitoring the Airspace violence and to avoid the type of disconnection between the two in the multiple attacks in the US during September 9, 2001”, he added.
Similarly, Aviation Round-Table Secretary-General, Olumide Ohunayo, said that the aviation industry is trying to recover from the previous administration, urging Keyamo not to hit the ground running but to be careful of possible landmines and booby traps in the aviation roadmap.
He said: “He is coming at a time when the industry is trying to recover from the post traumatic experience we had with the previous Minister and we are trying to build a clean mind towards the new Minister but I pray that affliction don’t arise the second time in the industry.
“I will not join them using the word hit the ground running because he can not hit the ground running. He should hit the ground, and look back and look at the different booby traps from the roadmap ground that affects public interest and public investment.
“As a lawyer, he should ask for all the documents, he should be able to look at it. From his background, being an activist in the past and being a lawyer and his SAN, he needs to look at almost all agreements that were signed in the last eight years on behalf of the federal government.
“He needs to set up a legal team to look at it critically. He also needs to look at those that are there before them and also look at all the contentious concession agreements, they need to resolve that. It is when you do that that genuine investors will come on board, not those that will come based on the Minister’s friendship.”
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