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

The outbreak of COVID-19 and its devastating impact on the aviation sector isn’t 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 short time , the federal government had not jettisoned the plan.

They noted that the present crisis within the global aviation industry with its particular impact on Nigerian airlines was more of a chance for the establishment of Nigeria Air, describing it together of the priority projects of state .

It was further learnt that a part of government’s intervention fund to support businesses and cushion the consequences 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 present situation within the (aviation) sector are going to be an encouragement,” the Director, Public Affairs, Federal Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu, stated.

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

“I am very happy to inform you that we are finally on target to launching a replacement ensign 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 getting to launch Nigeria Air by the top 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 council has taken the tough decision to suspend the national carrier project within the interim. All commitments due are going to be honoured. We thank the general 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, because the project was still being pursued.

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

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

“This is that the situation of civil aviation, it’s a pathetic one, we are all crying and that i can guarantee you many airlines aren’t getting to begin of it, unfortunately,” Sirika said during the Presidential Task Force briefing on COVID-19 in Abuja recently.

Odaudu said the govt had assured the ministry that it might channel some fund into the aviation sector.

He said, “So definitely it’s an encouragement for the continuation of the national carrier project. The Minister of State for Budget and National Planning recently mentioned aviation together of the critical sectors that might enjoy the N2tn intervention fund being found out by government.

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

He said, “I personally don’t think the present situation will affect the national carrier project. i feel that now that the aviation sector globally is nearly down could be the proper time to return in to support the industry in Nigeria.

“So i will be able to tell you that the plan for a national carrier won’t be suffering from whatever is occurring now. Rather it’ll even increase its chances of coming into being.”

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