WHEN she came into office in 2011, Minister of Aviation Princess Stella Oduah promised a new national airline by September 2012. Her deadline passed with a word about the airline which was her solution to challenges air travellers face.
The latest on the matter is that the Federal Government would buy 30 aircraft for private airlines to boost their domestic operations and as Mr. Dati Yakubu, General Manager, Corporate Communications, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, said, reduce the cost of domestic air travels.
Controversies are swirling around the issue. The authorities have denied that a $500 million loan from China would finance the deal. Apparently the planes would still be purchased and handed to the airlines under conditions that are at most clouded in secrecy.
Yakubu, in bringing this matter to the public, in Benin City, was re-echoing what FAAN’s Director of Operations, Mr. Henry Omeogu, said in Port Harcourt last November.
“We are going to have about 30 brand new aircraft and they (aircraft) will be our national carrier. The effort will be private-sector driven. We will insist that others who would want to be part of this should come with brand new aircraft,” Omeogu said.
According to Yakubu, “The Federal Government is making plans to bring in 30 aeroplanes to assist local airlines. We believe that one hour flight in Nigeria should not cost more than N10, 000 to N15, 000 and the whole idea is to make business cheaper and easier to operate, so that the beneficiaries would be the passengers.”
There are contradictions that should worry anyone who takes utterances of public officials serious. Is the Federal Government setting up a new airline as Omeogu said or buying planes it would hand over to private operators according to Yakubu? Does “private sector driven” mean that government use public funds to buy planes for private airlines?
How would government determine the benefiting airlines? Would domestic airlines with foreign ownership benefit from the largesse? How does government intend to benefit from the expenditure?
The point about new planes guaranteeing safety or lower air fares are made by those who side step important, unaddressed issues in aviation. FAAN’s parking charges, cost of aviation fuel are major concerns for airline operators. New planes may result in fuel efficiency, but FAAN’s charges keep rising.
Moreover, there are still no improvements on the slack supervision of airlines. FAAN’s challenges in this direction are recounted once there is an accident and forgotten when the media attention moves to other issues.
Government has too many competition interests that purchase of air planes for private operators should not be its priority. Will it also buy buses to tackle increasing road accidents?