National carrier project on course despite COVID-19, says FG

The outbreak of COVID-19 and its devastating impact on the aviation sector is not an impediment but an encouragement for the establishment of the proposed national carrier, Nigeria Air, the Federal Ministry of Aviation has said.

Officials at the ministry stated that although the national carrier project had been on hold for a while, the Federal Government had not jettisoned the plan.

They noted that the current crisis in the global aviation industry with its particular impact on Nigerian airlines was more of an opportunity for the establishment of Nigeria Air, describing it as one of the priority projects of government.

It was further learnt  that part of  government’s  intervention fund  to support businesses and cushion the effects of COVID-19 on the economy would be channelled into the aviation sector.

“Rather than being an impediment to the establishment of a national carrier, the current situation in the (aviation) sector will be an encouragement,” the Director, Public Affairs, Federal Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu, stated.

In July 2018, the Federal Government unveiled the branding and livery for Nigeria Air, stating that the firm  would be inaugurated at the end of that year.

“I am very pleased to tell you that we are finally on track to launching a new national flag carrier for our country, Nigeria Air. We are all fully committed to fulfilling the campaign promise made by  President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. We are aiming to launch Nigeria Air by the end of this year,” the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had said.

But in September 2018, Sirika announced the suspension of the project via a tweet.

“I regret to announce that the Federal Executive Council has taken the tough decision to suspend the national carrier project in the interim. All commitments due will be honoured. We thank the public for the support as always,” he said.

In September 2019, one year after announcing the suspension of the project, Sirika declared that the transaction advisers for the establishment of Nigeria Air had concluded their studies and submitted their findings, as the project was still being pursued.

Odaudu told our correspondent in Abuja that the COVID-19 situation would encourage the government to continue with the Nigerian Air  project since some airlines might not survive the crisis caused by the pandemic.

Sirika during the week expressed fears that some  airlines might go under as a result of the N24bn monthly losses  being recorded by the sector due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This is the situation of civil aviation, it is a pathetic one, we are all crying and I can guarantee you several airlines are not going to come out of it, unfortunately,” Sirika said  during the Presidential Task Force briefing on COVID-19 in Abuja recently.

Odaudu  said  the government had assured the ministry that it would channel some fund into the aviation sector.

He said, “So definitely it is an encouragement for the continuation of the national carrier project. The Minister of State for Budget and National Planning recently mentioned aviation as one of the critical sectors that would  benefit from the N2tn intervention fund being set up by government.

“And if that is the case, you know that the establishment of a national carrier is one of the priority projects of this present administration. Then, of course, we should see it as a plus.”

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