20th September, 2012
The Senate Committee on Aviation on Wednesday recommended that Arik Air be allowed to serve as Nigeria’s national carrier, a decision that has been criticised in the past.
The committee recommended that the airline, owned by Port Harcourt-based businessman, Dr. Michael Arumemi-Ikhide, should become the national carrier until the Aviation Ministry sets up a new national carrier.
Nigeria has been without a national carrier since the demise of Nigeria Airways in 2003, when most of its facilities were sold to Arik Air at giveaway prices.
Nigeria Airways was founded in 1958 after the dissolution of West African Airways Corporation. It was wholly owned by the Government of Nigeria, and once owned about 30 aircraft. But it was plagued by corruption and mismanagement and in 2003, it was heavily indebted and owned only one aircraft for domestic routes and two leased aircraft for international routes. But aviation analysts have warned that it will be Nigeria’s biggest scam if Arik became national carrier.
Arik Air is said to owe AMCON billions of naira and often struggles with staff wages and leased aircraft. With the committee’s decision, Arik Air’s debt will be transferred to Nigeria’s taxpayers, the analysts have said.Experts in the aviation sector have labelled it “a trick to settle the boys and pass the debts to the country”.
They have called on the Federal Government to set up a national carrier from scratch, using its own resources, instead of buying over debts and other liabilities.If this recommendation is adopted by the National Assembly, Arik Air will enjoy preferential rights or privileges, accorded by the government, for international operations.
The airline company will also be required to display the flag of Nigeria in all its aircrafts.
The chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, Hope Uzodinma, while presenting the report of the committee’s findings regarding the arbitrary fees charged by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic airways, said Arik airline should be allowed to fly the nation’s flag pending when a new national carrier would be approved by the Minister of Aviation.“What we are saying is that for now let’s allow Arik to fly our flag around the world while the ministry of aviation is working out modalities of securing a new national carrier,” Mr Uzodinma said.
The committee in its recommendations also addressed issues relating to compliance or non-compliance with relevant aviation laws and all unwholesome activities by foreign airlines, and the role played by regulatory agencies which undermine the growth of the aviation industry in Nigeria.The Senate President, David Mark, while reacting to the recommendations, requested the committee to produce a “compressed version of the recommendations” as according to him, the one presented was too bulky for members.
By Simon Ateba/Aviation Correspondent