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Long road to national carrier

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Long road to national carrier

Anxiety mixed with uncertainty could best describe the slow pace of work to establish a national airline. WOLE SHADARE writes

Mission impossible?
Can Nigeria pull this through? Many are very desirous of a national airline for Nigeria but the slow speed of actualising the dream is beginning to dampen the spirit of many who thought by now, the issue of a national carrier would have been put to rest.
Just last weekend, Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika rekindled hope that in the next couple of months, “we should be closer to having a national airline. He noted that the country was very close to getting a national airline.”
Luthansa project flops
The Lufthansa saga seriously looked as if the entire project had collapsed before it even took off, leading to insinuations in some quarters that the government was not serious about one of the key things it promised to do in 2015.
Lufthansa Consortium’s contract that was expected to mid-wife a national carrier was terminated with the government explaining that the decision was taken in the best interest of the nation.
The minister alleged that the firm changed the term of contract it had with the government by demanding that aside asking for 75 per cent of N341 million upfront payments, which he said was not in line Nigeria’s procurement law, also alleged that the firm wanted the money to be converted to Euros, which was also not acceptable to them.
His words, “What transpired at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, which I explained very clearly is that we substituted Lufthansa Consulting as part of the consortium to provide transaction advisory services for the establishment of a national carrier.
“The reason is very simple and clear. We thought that Lufthansa Consortium is an arm of Lufthansa Airline Group and this may compromise the process. They might be interested party latter in the day of this procurement and this may compromise the system. We want it to be transparent, as fair and equitable as it should be.
“They wanted about 75 per cent to be paid of the sum ab nitio and this is not in line with procurement laws. The contract was in Naira N341million but they wanted to change it Euros and this was not acceptable to us. This was neither in our request for proposal. What we did was there were many in the consortium; we substituted them with another company that is even fair, that is no appendage to any other company that might be interested. So, they are more of a neutral company to take over the place of Lufthansa “, he added.
Although, Lufthansa Consortium is yet to speak on the matter, a source close to the firm said it has a reputation that would not want to be tarnished because of the  way the Federal Government went about the whole bidding process which was less than transparent.
Many, who spoke to New Telegraph, said the failure of flag carriers in Nigeria has made the government to look inwards with a view to making air transport easier for the teeming Nigerian public who have been short-changed over the years with bad services, unreliable schedule and many other customer related problems.
Lamentation
Many flag carriers have collapsed over the years. Many do not know where to turn to. While the lamentation continues, foreign airlines have perfectly filled the void and providing seamless air travel needs to very mobile populace.
While airline collapses have become commonplace with Aero and Arik going under during the past few years, the loss of flag carriers is a frequent phenomenon.
For sure, we ‘ve seen high profile bankruptcies; Arik and Aero immediately come to mind. But in both cases, the government worked hard to get them rescued.
Both Rwanda and Zimbabwe are good examples of why small countries need their own airlines. Big nation such as Nigeria needs it more than ever before.
With not enough space on the tarmac for a host of home-grown competition, countries need their own airlines to stimulate trade, boost tourism and in many cases, assert their  sovereignty.
Conventional wisdom suggests that states have no business running airlines. Indeed, the past few decades have seen most major economies sell their flag carriers to other airline groups or list them on the local bourse-often keeping minority stakes for sentimental purposes. The results have been mixed, at best.
Expert’s view
An aviation consultant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he also believes there’s a need for the governments to offer essential services to their citizens. In the case of countries with small populations or lacking strategic hubs, this also means underwriting the national airline.
Consultants might argue that this is wholly unnecessary, as other airlines will swoop down to soak up demand. But there is considerably more at stake than just ensuring every flight boasts 80 per cent load factor. On a good day, a national airline is an embassy with wings-transporting culture, cuisine, commerce and goodwill around the world.
Ethiopian Airlines is a flying example of resourcefulness and ingenuity. A flag carrier that instils a sense of pride when its tail is spotted on the runway of a far-off land; when it brings home the winning team or when it flies out of to evacuate citizens stranded in a conflict or disaster zone.
In an increasing globalised world, smart governments recognise the importance of having their flags fluttering on as many routes as possible. It is a mileage that certainly hasn’t been lost on Singapore, whose government owns the highly respected Singapore Airlines, or Dubai, home of Emirates. In both cases, these small states have made their airlines part of their national identity and growth strategy.
Last line
As governments around the world continue to tighten their belts, they also have the to remember there are some things you simply have to protect such as education, national security, banks and infrastructure are fundamental. An airline to call your own is also useful to get your citizens around the world and bring in visitors to invest and marvel at your achievements.

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