The Federal Government FG has halted the Nigeria Air project.
Contracts awarded in respect of the controversial project, which immediate past Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika devoted energy to in the twilight of the Muhammadu Buhari Administration, will be properly audited.
Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo said this yesterday during his first visit to the nation’s foremost gateway – the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.
He also hinted at plans for comprehensive reform of the sector to put things right.
Beginning from October 1, all foreign airlines will originate their flights from the new terminal of the MMIA to pave the way for renovation of the old terminal.
On the reasons for the decision on Nigeria Air, Keyamo said: “Nigeria Air has been suspended until I brief the President whom I owe absolute loyalty and honesty to the people of Nigeria about all that transpired concerning that project.
“We have to ensure that everything is right before we can go ahead with further transactions on it.”
As of the last count, the Federal Government had sunk N3 billion into the Nigeria Air project before May 29.
Ethiopian Airline, which got the franchise to run the national carrier, was to have 49 per cent stake. Nigeria Sovereign Fund and the Federal Government providing 46 per cent and five per cent respectively.
Local airliners, under the auspices of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), were at the forefront of opposition to the project.
Its members instituted a legal action to force the reversal of the government decision to hire Ethiopian Airline to run a national carrier.
On May 26, a plane with Nigeria Airline inscription touched down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA).
The flight, which had on board Sirika and the Chief Commercial Officer of Ethiopian Airline, Lemma Gudeta, generated controversy from critics, who faulted the arrangement.
In June, veteran aviator, Girma Wake, resigned as Chairman of Ethiopian Airlines amidst controversy surrounding the establishment of Nigeria Air.
The Interim Managing Director of Nigeria Air, Capt. Dapo Olumide, said the aircraft used to unveil the carrier was a legitimate chartered flight from Ethiopian Airlines, adding that the aircraft was returned to Ethiopian Airlines after the unveiling.
The Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Aviation labelled the inauguration of the carrier as a fraud.
Keyamo said the relocation of international airlines would pave the way for the total rehabilitation of facilities at the old terminal building.
The minister also took a bus ride to inspect the perimeter fence of the airport, saying that safety in the aviation sector remained his focus.
He said: “We must use what we have for now. I have given both international airlines and local airlines till October 1, to move from the old terminal to the new one.
“We are going to shut down the old terminal temporarily and sort out all the issues surrounding the old terminal such as concession agreements.
“The old international terminal, right from the toilet facilities to the arrival, departure halls, is an eyesore to Nigerians and foreigners.
“The lifts are not working and the passage is unwelcoming, and there is no air conditioner. We have the new terminal but it cannot be used. It was designed without provision for big planes.
“I don’t know what happened and I have been asking that question that makes them not have avio-bridges that would lead to the big planes.”
The Minister said that 60 percent of revenue being generated by the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) comes from the Lagos airport.
Besides, Keyamo said Lagos remained the gateway into the country “and the first impression getting into the country.
The minister directed the ministry to relocate the Dominion Air and EAN hangar to create an apron facility for bigger aircraft to come to the new terminal.
He, however, said that the government would have an emergency procurement of buses to transit the international passengers to and from where the wide-body aircraft could park and disembark.
Operators hail action on Nigeria Air
Aviation industry operators have hailed the suspension placed by the Federal Government on transactions on the controversial national carrier – Nigeria Air.
The players, under the aegis of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), also hailed the decision to close down the old terminal at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos for comprehensive overhaul.
In a telephone interview, a member of the AON – Top brass Aviation, described the pronouncement by Keyamo as a step in the right direction.
Its Managing Director, Capt. Roland Iyayi, told The Nation that there is nothing wrong in fixing the wrong foundation of a project that generated so much controversy.
Iyayi said: “I think the pronouncement by Keyamo to suspend further transactions on Nigeria Air is a step in the right direction.
“Why should anyone go ahead with a project whose foundation appears shaky. If the government finds out that the project is okay, nothing stops it from allowing it to continue. As a private sector-driven business, it could operate like other local carriers under the same conditions.
“It is about the processes and procedure that gave birth to it”, Iyayi said.
Another operator, who craved anonymity, said the minister has done what Nigerians have been looking forward to.
The operator said: “How could the government have continued with the project with the pending litigation and controversies surrounding it. Best decision by Keyamo.”
Ultimatum for dead planed
The Minister also gave owners of unserviceable aircraft littering the local wing of the airport to remove them within the next three months, failing which the government will dispense with them.
He said airlines, which are not utilising dead aircraft, should not occupy space that would be needed to expand the apron.
Keyamo said: “I have directed the MD of FAAN that owners of these dead planes parked perpetually on the facility of the Federal Government to remove them.
“We are giving them three months to move them away, after which we shall be at liberty to do away with the aircraft. This is because we want to expand our apron.” The Nation