24hrs after unveiling, Nigeria Air’s B737-800 returns to Addis Ababa

From Uche Usim, Abuja

Barely 24 hours after Nigeria Air’s B737-800 jetliner was unveiled to the public on Friday, the airplane has returned to Addis Ababa, the operational base of Ethiopian Airlines, which is the core investor in the project.

The Sun has learnt that the airplane left on Saturday afternoon, contrary to expectations that the aircraft was in the country to carry out test flights in preparation for the full launch of Nigeria Air.

Caustic criticisms have continued to trail the hurried unveiling of the national carrier, especially with a subsisting court order by local operators blocking its launch.

The Chairman of United Nigeria Airlines Limited, Prof. Obiorah Okonkwo, in a television interview, reiterated that local carriers on the platform of Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON) were already in court to stop the establishment of the airline because of the shadiness and lack of transparency and emphasized that the ‘charade’ that happened on Friday was to deceive the Nigerian public because the new airline has not met the five critical conditions that will enable it to secure Air Operator Certificate (AOC) from NCAA.

“There is an attempt by somebody to hang on to Nigeria Air, using it as cover to take over Nigeria’s aviation industry. So, the purpose is self-serving. The cost of the establishment of this airline is about $250 million. Who paid the $250 million? MRS and Skyway Aviation Handling Company Plc (SAHCO) listed as shareholders are not talking and have not made any contribution to the company and indications show they are not interested. Then if after eight years as Minister, you can only bring in one aircraft, what do you make of such? Nigeria Air’s unveiling was meant to confuse Nigerians.

“Nigeria’s aircraft registration number is 5N and before you express the readiness to operate an airline you must have at least three aircraft registered in Nigeria, which you could buy or dry lease, but I can assure you that the document of the aircraft the Minister brought in is not with NCAA,” AON spokesman said.

He said that if the Minister succeeds in launching an airline without going through the required process, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) would have blacklisted Nigerian airlines because such would cast aspersion on the credibility of Nigeria’s airline certification.

Okonkwo also said that the people behind this airline were eyeing Nigeria’s Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) rights, which is put at about $20 billion, adding that the alleged plan of Ethiopian Airlines is to force Nigerian carriers out of business with predatory prices; that is, selling tickets below profitable margins in order to force existing Nigerian carriers out of the market.

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