New Telegraph

National Carrier: FG in Talks With Boeing, Others for Cheaper Leases

…Warns Aviation Agencies’ Chiefs Against Non-performance

Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Develop- ment, Mr. Festus Keyamo, may have rekindled hope for a national airline for Nige- ria, saying the country needs a national airline that befits the status of the country as a giant of Africa. He disclosed that what he inherited as Nigeria Air was not patriotic enough, maintaining that the project remained suspended until he gets a clear directive from President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on how to go about it to have a national carrier. This is just as the minister disclosed that the Federal Government had opened discussions with aircraft giant, Boeing, and others for a national carrier lease arrangement.

The minister stated this yesterßday while fielding questions from journalists at the end of the in-house inauguration/induction for the newly appointed chief executive officers and directors of the aviation agencies in Abuja. There are indications that a new national carrier may emerge that will be different from Nigeria Air promoted by a former Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, with totally a different name or with the same name but a different structure. His words: “It is what I have always said. Nigeria Air remains suspended. It remains suspended and very soon, we will get a clear directive on it from Mr. President on how to go about it to have a national carrier. We need a national carrier that benefits the status of Nigeria.

What I met on the ground was not patriotic enough.” The Minister assured that the 18R runway of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, which had been under repairs for nearly a year would soon be completed, urging airlines to be patient by using the sole runway available for flight operations. Speaking on the challenges facing the country’s carriers, Keyamo stated that the airlines were challenged by not just a lack of access to loans at a single-digit rate but many other factors such as lack of access to dry-lease at very good terms. He said: “Our local operators do not have access to aircraft. They are struggling. Most of them do wet leases to meet their local obligations. All over the world, airlines do not on wholesale purchase of aircraft. Even the biggest airlines like Emirates, Qatar, and British Airways of this world, most of them have access to loans at single digit rates and we are doing 26 per cent interest rate.”

He noted that there was no way the airlines would survive with a bank interest rate of 26 per cent, explaining that as a government, they have spoken to aircraft giants like Boeing and others to bring in aircraft to the domestic airlines for them to have access to leases at very good terms. “This is so, so that when we have enough aircraft, there would be competition among the airlines. We can cross that path,” he added. On the astronomic fares charged by foreign airlines, he said it was so because foreign airlines are complaining about it and were not sure when they would get their money back. “Most of them open the highest ticket inventory or the most expensive part of the tickets to Nigerian travelers because according to them before now, they did not know whether it would take one year or two years to get their money back. They are raising fares because of the devaluation of their money.

They look at the length it takes them to get their money. “The government is addressing that issue now. Our airlines do not have enough aircraft to service many of the routes they have been designated under the reciprocal right given to them under the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) to service many routes. “If for instance, BA is doing 14 frequencies to Nigeria every week and United Nigeria and Air Peace are doing 14 flights to the UK, prices will crash. Why can’t they do it? It is because they don’t have access to aircraft while BA has access to airplanes at a single-digit interest rate,” he added. Meanwhioe, Keyamo also told the newly appointed chief executive officers and directors of all aviation agencies that he would not allow them to mess him up in the poor discharge of their duties.

The highlight of the induction was the signing of a performance bond with the Minister. He equally said anyone nursing the ambition of seeing his appointment as an avenue to enrich himself should tender his resignation, saying he would be more critical with them to bring out their best in service to the people. He warned them that he would be the first to hand them over to anti-graft agencies if they were found embezzling public funds. “I will not tolerate non- performance. If the reason for serving is to make money, please quickly tender your resignation letter now. I promise to hand over anyone found embezzling the government’s funds. I will not allow anyone to mess me up,” he said.

Some of his five-point agenda is to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and joint-venture partnerships with heads of international economic organizations, presidents of transnational corporations, and principals of leading privately- owned enterprises. Special Adviser to the President on Policy Coordination, Hadiza Bala Usman, had said that the Presidency would begin to assess the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) of all the Ministries including the agencies under them by the first quarter of 2024.

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