Nigeria Air launch denounced as “fraud”

Nigeria's dreams for a domestic airline crash land as lawmakers dub the May 26th launch of Nigeria Air as "fraudulent."


Nigeria’s Senate Committee on Aviation slammed the launch of Nigeria’s new flag carrier Nigeria Air as a ‘fraud’ on Tuesday, during an investigative hearing with Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) and representatives of the ministry of aviation.

The Senate recommended that the ministry of aviation and its partners in the project to “immediately suspend flight operations“.

During the hearing the former minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika, claimed Nigeria Air was only unveiled and not launched during a fanfare on May 26th. At the unveiling of the aircraft Sirika said the airline was expected to commence operations in a month’s time.

The aircraft used for the unveiling was also a chartered flight, said Acting Managing Director of Nigeria Air, Captain Dapo Olumide, as he was grilled by lawmakers.

The unveiling came days before the official end of former president Muhammadu Buhari’s administration on May 28th, who had pledged to resurrect a national airline in his 2015 election campaign.

“The Nigeria Air project was shrouded in secrecy to the extent that it was fraudulently displayed as a new national carrier contrary to the extant court order and international rules that strictly guide airline operation. This was indeed an embarrassment to the committee,” said Senator Bala Nallah, a member of the Senate Committee on Aviation.

The launch came despite a restraining order from domestic operators, the Airline Operators of Nigeria, barring the director general of the Nigeria Aviation Authority from issuing an air operators certificate to the new carrier.

People gather on the tarmac at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport for the take-off of Nigeria Air in Abuja on May 26, 2023. (Photo by KOLA SULAIMON / AFP)

72 hours after the launch, not a single website for the purchase of tickets, routes, or aircraft vouched for the existence of the airline, aside from one 11 year-old repainted Ethiopian Airlines plane.

Crash landing

After many failed attempts to launch a profitable airline, the Nigerian government enlisted Africa’s biggest airline, Ethiopian Airlines, to help its new national carrier take off.

The establishment of a national airline was one of Buhari’s campaign pledges when he first won the presidency in 2015 and he is keen to see the promise implemented before he relinquishes office in May 2023.

Nigeria Air was first unveiled at the UK’s Farnborough Air Show in 2018. Within months the project had been suspended as critics raised concerns over its relevance, sustainability and burden on the government budget, with startup costs estimated at over $300m over three years.

Ethiopian Airlines owns a 49% stake in Nigeria Air, while the Nigerian Sovereign Fund has 46% and the Nigerian federal government the remaining 5%. With initial capital of $300m, and plans to have 30 aircraft within four years, Nigeria Air pledged to launch a service between Abuja and Lagos and add other routes later.

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