By the Guardian (Nigeria)
A STEP that may turn around the fortune of the wobbly Nigeria Airways has been taken by the Federal Government as it has released a whopping $100 million (about N11.2 billion) to enable the national carrier improve its depleted fleet with two new Boeing aircraft.
The development, a complete turn around by the government from its earlier stand not to pump more money into the embattled airline was, according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), facilitated by the Aviation Ministry and Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE).
NAN quoted some aviation industry sources as saying that the acquisition of the new aircraft would go a long way in minimising the constraints faced by the airline in operating its international routes.
The airline's fleet has been depleted from 28 aircraft 10 years ago to only two B737.
Believed to have been given a year to reposition for privatisation, the Airways may be adding a Boeing 767-300, an extended range aircraft and B737-300.
Agency report has it that the Aviation Ministry and BPE proposed $40 million for the purchasing of a six-year-old B767-300 and $40 million for two B737-300 to the government.
This planned release of the $100m is, to some aviation industry observers a dramatic twist in the privatisation of Airways that had bitterly pitched the Aviation Ministry and the BPE against each other. The former had favoured a turn-around before privatisation and the latter an outright sale or liquidation leading to the establishment of a new company.
NAN quoted a source as describing the government move as 'timely', adding that it would enable the airline operate to the United States directly on its own and boost its network on the West African route.
Airways currently operates to New York under a joint venture arrangement with the South African Airways and has since November 20 returned to the London route with a wet-leased Boeing 747-300 aircraft.
"The plan is part of the ministry's initiative to revive the airline and reposition it for eventual privatisation," added the source.
Truce was said to have been reached at a tripartite meeting by officials of the Airways, Aviation Ministry and BPE. It was learnt that the airline's managing director, Jonathan Jiga persuaded the BPE on the need to recapitalise the company through fleet renewal to enable it reposition for privatisation within a year.
Disagreement over the future of Airways degenerated into a media war between Aviation Minister Kema Urikwe and BPE director-general, Nasir El-Rufai that the presidency once had to call them to order.
Former Airways managing director, Yomi Jones, caught in between the cross-fire lost his job for allegedly trying to get the airline back on the London route on its own.
Airways has not been able to service its uncreative routes for years now although it is currently the only designated carrier on more than 65 Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) between Nigeria and other countries.
This invitation has cost Nigeria more than half a billion of capital flight by foreign carriers.
The Lagos - London route alone is believed to be a £320 million revenue route with Nigeria recording little or nothing in terms of market share.