A new national carrier to replace the liquidated Nigeria Airways will begin operations by the first quarter of 2022, Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, has said.
Sirika told reporters Wednesday in Abuja at the end of a meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), that the federal government was committed to providing a national carrier for the country.
He said the initial plan to establish a national carrier in 2021 was affected by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The minister stated that there is no going back on getting a national carrier for the country.
He said: “It is still in top gear; we are coming back to the council; hopefully in the next two weeks to present the memo on the national carrier. We went to council to approve the outline business case for the carrier; then, the council raised some questions and asked us to go and look at the memo again and bring it back.
“So, once it comes back and the outline business case is approved by the council, we will go to the full business case which is now going to the market and establishing the national carrier.
“It is our intention to have the national carrier running in 2021, which is this year; unfortunately, due to COVID-19, which took the greater part of last year, since March last year, activities have almost been impossible.’’
He said though the pandemic negatively affected preparations for the establishment of the national carrier, it made it a much better time to establish the carrier than before.
Sirika expressed optimism that when the national carrier begins operations, Nigeria will have fast access to equipment; deliveries of the aircraft will be faster and the rates might be cheaper.
According to him, Nigeria has a massive market and population to sustain an airline, adding that updates will be provided on the progress of the project after the next presentation to FEC.
He said: “The COVID-19 has exposed the nation. Lack of having a very strong, viable airline is bad for the economy of Nigeria and for any country for that matter; tourism for example is badly affected by lack of airline.
“Finally, to just say that Nigeria is the best candidate to have an airline; 200 million people that travel sometimes almost for nothing, sitting within the West African region, 400 million people contiguous to Central Africa, 600 million.
“Twice the population of the US; equal to the population of entire continental Europe; at the centre of Africa, Nigeria, equal distance from all locations; rising middle class, propensity to fly is high; Nigeria is the best candidate for a very robust carrier.
“In this 2021, we will try to do all the needful and probably intend to start operations somewhere in the first quarter of 2022.”
Deji Elumoye in Abuja