Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise, Africa’s biggest airline, said it’s in discussions to back the Nigerian government’s plans for a new national carrier.
Tewolde GebreMariam, Ethiopian’s chief executive officer, will hold talks with a Nigerian minister about the proposalon Tuesday at the Farnborough air show in England, he said in an interview with Bloomberg. Nigeria said this month that a new airline would begin operations this year, with the name to be revealed at the expo.
Africa’s most populous nation has struggled to support a viable home-grown airline for decades, with a succession of carriers collapsing or slashing routes. That’s left the oil-rich country dependent on services provided mainly by European and Persian Gulf carriers for trips beyond the region.
Ethiopian Air, by contrast, has become Africa’s only consistently profitable carrier by turning Addis Ababa into a crossroads for travel around the continent and beyond, replicating the hub model of Persian Gulf carriers. The network features about 70 global cities and almost 60 across Africa.
Ethiopian Air already owns stakes in Malawi Airlines and Togo-based Asky Airlines and aims to secure equity holdings in new carriers in Zambia, Chad, Mozambique and Guinea by the end of the year while helping to manage existing operators in Equatorial Guinea and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Earlier yesterday the government announced plans for the company to buy a 20 percent stake in Eritrea Airlines as part of a new peace deal, with flights between the neighboring states starting Wednesday.
Tewolde, who spoke in London, said he expects to face competition over the Nigerian project from Qatar Airways, which has stakes in carriers including British Airways owner IAG SA and Latam Airlines Group SA, the biggest South American operator.
Nigeria said last week that its planned national carrier would be unveiled today. The airline will be run as a public- private partnership and should become profitablein three years, according to the government. Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika tweeted from his tweeter handle, @hadisirika from Farnborough that he’d held talks on sourcing jets from Airbus SE and planned to meet with Boeing Co. and other suppliers.
Former flag-carrier Nigeria Airways collapsed in 2003, with successor Air Nigeria — founded as a joint venture with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group — folding in 2012. Private operator Arik Air was taken over by Asset Management Corp. of Nigeria last year, leading long-haul flights to be suspended.
Sirika said that he hoped to meet with other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to order for different aircraft sizes for different routes and distances for the new carrier.
The Minister said he had earlier met with Standard Chartered Bank to discuss funding for the aircraft acquisition.
But industry experts who reacted to the level of discussion with the aircraft manufacturing companies expressed reservation about the timeliness of the delivery of the equipment.
They said that when aircraft are ordered the manufacturers need time to manufacture them.
They noted that manufacturers do not keep aircraft on ground and sell them like cars but are produced for airlines and others that make firm order and back their order with payment for the aircraft.
However, Sirika has not given details on how the airline would start operation after it has been unveiled but had earlier said that the new carrier would start with five aircraft that would be delivered onDecember 19, 2018.
Reacting to the Minister’s tweet announcing the negotiation, some Nigerians commended the federal government and the Minister.
They expressed happiness that Nigeria would once again have a national carrier that would buoy the aviation industry, create jobs and put the country in a higher pedestal in global air transport.
But some other Nigerians expressed doubt about the viability of the project, recognising that some fundamentals are yet to take place, like procedures and processes for the airline, establishment of offices and recruitment of staff.
They wondered whether these could be completed in less than six months to the target date of operation.