Managing Director Nigeria Air Captain Dayo Olumide has told the Senate Committee on Aviation that the recently unveiled Nigeria Air launched by former President Muhammadu Buhari, was a chartered aircraft from Ethiopia hired for few days to showcase the logo to Nigerians and their shareholders.
He further said that for Nigeria to operate an aircraft, the equipment must be Nigeria-registered.
At twilight of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, specifically 72 hours to the end of its tenure, the federal government unveiled Nigeria Air, the national carrier, at the airline’s operation centre, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja.
In his remarks at the event, the erstwhile Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, had said the partnership with the Ethiopian Airlines (ET) consortium, the preferred bidder for Nigeria Air, would connect the market of both countries.
“This is one infrastructure that has been missing in general aviation in dynamics of the country; the airline that is equal to the size of dynamics of the market in Nigeria for its geography and fortune. Indeed, we do need the kind of infrastructure that we are having today in the name of Nigeria Air limited,” Sirika had said.
He further said: “This Nigeria Air Limited is obviously an entity known to Nigerian laws and the partnership between entrepreneurs in Nigeria and entrepreneurs in the Ethiopia Airline consortium.
“The consortium is a company belonging to many partners and it is a very long journey that we started in 2016 and ended up today.
“There were challenges but we did not allow them to make us lose focus and today we are here. We pray that it will be good for our country, its people, its future, and humanity.”
“So, this airplane will be here and we will commence the demonstration flight to show that we can do it. It is normally around 0-40 hours but it can be less. It can be five or even two hours and this is to ensure that we are able and have the capacity to do it,” he had assured.
But the Nigeria Air MD Tuesday spoke to the contrary, saying the particular aircraft that was unveiled was not registered, and that it flew into Nigeria with a few days’ clearance from Ethiopia and was returned after use.
He further stated that Nigeria only has airport license which is one of two licenses required for operating an airline and does not permit one to carry out commercial services operations.
He said: “I will like to address your question first before I go on. The aircraft that came in and left was a legitimate charter flight.
“Anyone of us here, if we have a destination wedding in Senegal, we can charter an aircraft. You don’t need to have a licence to do that, you just charter an aircraft, an aircraft, you paid for it, it will be brought here, take your passengers and off you go.
“And that is what we did. But in this case, it was to unveil. Ever since 2018, all you have ever seen about Nigeria aircraft were pictures, drawings not the real aircraft, and we thought it was time to show what the real aircraft will look like and also to let shareholders… you see we have institutional investors, they are not in aviation, but they are putting their money for 10 or 15 years before exiting at the premium. So, they need to see what the actual aircraft will look like.
“So, we brought it in here to show them what the aircraft will look like. Then the social media dimension came into it.
“It is Ethiopian registered one. Why is it Ethiopian registered? To operate aircraft in Nigeria, they must be Nigerian registered; 5th November. That aircraft was not 5th November registered because it was a chartered flight and it came in with just a few days clearance and off it went.
“For us to get that licence which is my mandate, we must among other things have three aircraft before the NCA will give us a licence and those three aircraft must be Nigerian registered aircraft.
“There are five steps that one goes through to have a licence. We have gone from the first one to the second one but the problem is that when you change what we call post holders, post holders is a technical term for director of maintenance, chief pilot, when you change them and replace them completely, you have to go back to phase one to interview them to be compliant to the authority, to the civil authority. But having gone back to phase one doesn’t mean you have done anything thing wrong. That is a correct and normal process.
“So, when this aircraft came on a chartered flight, everybody said we have launched Nigeria Air.”
In their remarks, the committee chairman, Senator Biodun Olujimi (PDP Ekiti South) and Smart Adeyemi (APC Kogi West) , said it was unfortunate for the Nigeria Air project was shrouded in suspicion.
Also at a similar session, the House of Representatives faulted the processes around the Nigeria Air project, describing it as a fraud.
Chairman House Committee on Aviation Nnolim Nnaji made the position known after major stakeholders in the deal between the Nigerian government and Ethiopian Airlines denied knowledge of the launch.
The Ministry of Aviation claimed Nigeria Air was only unveiled and not launched.
The committee members were taken aback when the Nigeria Air Space Management Agency (NAMA) said the aircraft bearing Nigerian colours was on a chartered flight to Nigeria.
Also, others who confirmed NAMA’s position admitted that a chartered flight could be painted in any colour and with any inscription.