The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) on Thursday commended the Federal Government for taking bold step to suspend the planned National Carrier Project in the interest of the nation.
The Chairman of AON, Capt. Nogie Meggisson, said that the move was in response to cries for reason put forward by the operators.
Meggisson said that the operators had continued to call for a rethink by the Federal Government regarding the project.
The Minister of State for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, had on Wednesday announced that the Federal Government had decided to suspend the Air Project in the interim.
Meggisson said that suspension of the carrier was in the light of the tough economic situation in the country today and the fact that it was a moribund idea.
He said: “We thank President Muhammadu Buhari and the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for listening to our many calls for the suspension of the idea.
“In our opinion, we believe the process was neither transparent, nor did it clearly define the role of private investors in the entire process.
“At this time of our national limited resources and struggle to recover from recession, AON will like to state that there are private Nigerian airline investors ready to invest.
“They are already investing heavily in the sector and only asking for a more friendly operational environment and infrastructure support.”
According to him, putting the issue into perspective, setting up of National Carrier will cost Nigeria at least three billion dollars because a single B777 Aircraft as of today costs about 320 million dollars.
“Is it wise and our priority as a nation to take three billion dollars from the Nigerian coffers today and put into a venture that will for sure go down the drain within a maximum of five years to establish a `National Carrier’?
“This is bearing also in mind that the National Carrier will need an additional cash injection of 500 million dollars subsidy per year on average for the next 10 years to keep the airline afloat,” he added.
Meggisson noted that majority of Nigerian masses today were grappling for the basic necessities of life like food, shelter, electricity, water, education and good roads.
He said Nigeria had overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty according to recent reports in the media.
The AON chairman said that the national carrier was only an idea driven by pride, because most airlines earlier owned by governments such as Lufthansa and British Airways had been privatised.
He said: “Just about 10 days ago, on Sept. 12, was a clear indication of what obtains in the true world.
“Boeing financed a private Nigerian airline, Air Peace, for purchase of 10 Boeing 737-8MAX airplanes in a deal valued at 1.5 billion dollars.
“This is much more than the Nigeria National Carrier and a clear indication of the future and where the world is today.”
Meggisson maintained that Nigeria needed strong private airlines allowed to operate in a friendly operational environment with a level playing field and policies that ensure their survival.
“Nigeria is a natural Hub for Africa. However, airlines don’t make a hub; but it is world-class infrastructure that makes a hub. Then, the airlines and airplanes will come in.
“Government should go back to the drawing board and engage the private sector with transparency on how to position Nigeria as the hub for Africa to take advantage of our God-given gift of geographical location,” he said.
Meggisson said that this would make aviation a major economic contributor to the Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (Product) and a serious replacement of the country’s dependence on oil alone.