New national carrier may take off by 2022, Sirika pledges —

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By John Okoh

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, says efforts at establishing a national carrier are still in the works as operations may commence in the first quarter of 2022 while using this year, 2021 to do the needful.

This is just as he said that COVID-19 exposed certain economic vulnerabilities in the nation due to its lack of having a very strong, viable airline.

Sirika who responded to questions from State House correspondents after a virtual Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on Wednesday at the Presidential Villa; Abuja said the new national airline was overdue.

According to him, the Ministry would return to the council in two weeks to submit a memo with an outline business case for the council’s approval.

He said, “It is still on 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 the 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 that though the pandemic negatively affected civil aviation, in terms of the establishment of the national carrier, it made it a much better time to establish the carrier than before.

Sirika also expressed confidence that the airline would have speedy access to equipment for operations and at a cheap rate and stressed that the national airline is needed because Nigeria not only has the population but is equidistant from all locations.

According to Sirika, Nigeria has a massive market and population to sustain an airline.

He said that updates would be provided on the progress of the project after the next presentation to FEC.

“The COVID-19 has exposed the nation; lack of having very strong, the 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, 400million people; contiguous to Central Africa, 600million.

“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,’’ he said.

Recall after announcement the airline Nigeria Air was billed to come on stream December 2018 and since then numerous dates for the airline’s commencement has been announced including in 2020 and now this latest announcement.

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