By Kenneth Ehigiator
Doha- The Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, has said that for Nigeria to realise the dream of setting up a safe and profitable national carrier, it must be ready to investment massively in the project and airport infrastructure.
Al Baker, who spoke with newsmen on the sideline of the 18th Doha Forum in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday, said aside from the massive investments, deliberate steps must also be taken to acquire the desired aircraft type that could enable the new carrier compete favourably with South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines for the African market, in the first instance.
Dismissing reports that Qatar Airways was one of the major carriers that applied to serve as core investor in the proposed carrier, Al Baker said his airline neither bidded for the position nor was approached by the federal government.
According to him, the Nigerian government only sought the advice of Qatar Airways, being one of the leading carriers in the world, on how to go about floating the carrier, stressing that a country like Nigeria with large market for aviation cannot afford to be without a national carrier.
”We never applied to serve as core investor in the proposed Nigerian national carrier. The government of Nigeria only approached on how to go about setting up the carrier. And we advised that Nigeria needs massive investments to float a national carrier.
”Nigeria, being the largest country in Africa, cannot afford not to have a national carrier that compete, first in Africa, and then the global stage. Again, Nigeria , must also have the airport that can accommodate modern aircraft that can drive competition,” Al Baker said.
He said to have a viable aviation sector as in Qatar, Nigeria must also invest in infrastructure, noting that he advised the Nigerian government on the type of aircraft to acquire for profitability.
He added that the aviation sector in Qatar had helped to cushion the effect of the blockade imposed on his country by its Gulf Consultative Countries, GCC, neighbours, even as he stated that Nigeria could use the proposed national carrier to jump-start its economy.
Asked if Qatar Airways would, unlike other foreign airlines operating in the country, explore other routes in Nigeria beyond Lagos, Al Baker said his airline would not as, according to him, this kind of practice does not encourage local airlines in the country to grow.
”We won’t fly into Abuja or other routes in Nigeria. The Lagos market is big enough for us to explore. Don’t also forget that flying into multiple routes in a country can help to kill the domestic airlines of that country, since the foreign airlines will be eroding into their market on the domestic routes,” he said.
He also said Qatar Airways would rather encourage the Nigerian government to designate some of its flag carriers to Doha in the spirit of reciprocity, rather than pay royalties which other foreign airlines would prefer to do, pending the floating of the new national carrier.
According to him, it will benefit Nigeria more for its designated flag carriers to start commensurate operations to Doha, than to wait for royalties which would be far less than what reciprocity would bring.
He said the Nigerian aviation sector could grow in leaps and bound, if the right things were done in setting up the new carrier, stressing that Qatar Airways which is one of the newest carriers in the world now occupies a leading position, causing the envy of some of its One World alliance members that are older in the business.
Al Baker, who is the current chairman of the Board of International Air Transport Association, IATA, expressed regrets about the weak regulatory capacity of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, which he described as political tool in the hands of some countries of the world.
He said: ICAO has become too political and too weak to stand against blockade. ICAO should not give in to blockade of airspace as a form of bullying to obstruct air transport. This is the second time our neighbours are imposing a blockade on us, the first being 2014. The implication of this blockade is that it is increasing our cost of operating as we now burn fuel for extra 15 or 20 minutes to bypass the blockade.”
Qatar Airways currently has a young fleet size of 234 wide-bodied aircraft, averaging five years old and has, according to Al Baker, placed order for another 300 new planes estimated at $92 billion.