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Can Nigeria’s National Carrier Rise from the Ashes?

Nigeria plans to revive the national carrier nearly 20 years after its predecessor collapsed under a cloud of debt, mismanagement and corruption as outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari seeks to cement his legacy. The airline plans to take to the air by the end of the year with services between Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub, and Abuja, the country’s capital, Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika said on Friday. Nigeria’s infrastructure has suffered from decades of underinvestment and its aviation sector is empty small domestic operators and major international carriers. An existing national carrier could be a boon for economic growth and help Nigeria become an important operator in West Africa, a region where flights can be expensive and difficult to access. Relaunching the national airline has been a priority for Buhari and Sirika since taking office in 2015. The rebranded Nigeria Air was unveiled to the public at the 2018 Farnborough Air Show, but plans to launch suspended by the government in just two months. No reason was given. The new bidding process was announced in March. Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest airline, is the lead technical partner of the new carrier and the largest shareholder with a 49 percent stake. In a statement, Sirika named the total value of the proposed deal at $300 million. The airline will start with three Boeing 737-800 aircraft and plans to own 30 aircraft and operate international flights in two years. The government will own 5 percent of the airline, while the remaining 46 percent will be owned by local investors, including Nigeria’s sovereign wealth fund. “The consortium went through a due diligence process,” Sirico said. Nigeria Air will be entering a market where other national carriers on the continent have struggled to make a profit in recent years. South African Airways received help from the state for decades and in 2020 began bankruptcy proceedings. East African carriers Air Tanzania, Kenya Airways and Uganda Airlines are also in the red.