Nigeria Air: Not another Airline, but develop the sector

Sadly, we, and government in particular, often conflagrate the establishment of a single firm with the development of a sector.

No doubt Aviation is an important part of the transport mix.

However, it is not a priority in an economy where trunk and feeder roads are impassable, the bulk of the railway system is moribund and waterways not navigable.

Our transport mix must first ensure we can move onions out of Kebbi, Rice out of Badeggi, fruit out on Vandeikya, Yams from Otukpo, Tomatoes from Kano, Palm Oil from Ohambele and so on, this is more useful to the economy than  airlifting relatively elite passengers between cities such as Abuja, Porth Harcourt and Lagos. Aviation is important just not a biting priority for limited government funds.

That said, arguably, Nigeria needs several airlines with various types of aircraft  such as turbo-prop city hopers, 1-3 hour short-haul regional range jets and long-haul wide-bodied intercontinental aircraft.

Recollect that:

1. Kabo Air once had up to 45 aircraft, and South African Airways was nervously about Kabo’s potential to dominate the African market.

2. Similarly Okada had a fleet of up to 30 or so aircraft at its peak.

3. KLM was contracted to manage Nigeria Airways, and we need to understand why that didn’t work?

4. The Airforce invested in some passenger planes a few years ago, where are they?

5. It was clear from the Richard Branson fiasco that the issues are beyond the so called “lack” of local management capacity.

Yet a Nigeria, Bayo Ogunlesi, manages Gatwick, London City and Edinburgh airports in the UK as well as some Sea Ports in other parts of the world!

Government needs to address the underlying challenges that cause our local airlines to fail. Again it is more than very real weaknesses of many of the operators but it’s the harsh business environment.

I believe that once Government addresses, in good faith, the real challenges of the operating environment then airlines will competitively flourish.

Nigerians can raise the finance after all $15m which as you say is 5% of the $300m estimated is not beyond our stock market given that many telecoms, financial and energy players have been domestically raising much more than this as we speak.

If the market cannot or wont raise such “seed” money, then we must all, especially government, appreciate that the structural problems remain outstanding.

Government needs to learn that it cannot simultaneously be a referee and player. Government can be a facilitator of the sector not a shareholder.

–Abduhakeem Ajijola  –


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