The Federal Government on Tuesday said adequate preparations had been made and the sum of N78.96 billion had been budgeted in the 2021 Appropriation Bill to implement the plan for a new national carrier, among other projects next year.

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who disclosed this during the defence of the 2021 budgetary allocation to his ministry before the Senate Committee on Aviation, said the establishment of the national carrier would be carried out in partnership with the private sector.

The Senate Committee on Aviation, however, frowned on the state of disrepair of Ilorin, Minna and Makurdi airports. Sirika explained that the Aviation Roadmap that was unveiled in 2016 would get good attention in the 2021 budget, with the national carrier, already christened Nigeria Air, taking the lead.

He said: “In 2021, the sum of N78.960 billion is being proposed for capital expenditure at the headquarters in the aviation ministry and the emphasis will focus on the implementation of the Aviation Roadmap as directed by Mr. President.

“The roadmap would be implemented through Public Private Partnership (PPP), topmost of which will be the establishment of a national carrier”.

Other projects to be executed, according to him, are establishment of Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRC) facility, Agro-Allied Cargo Infrastructure, Aviation Leasing Company, Search and Rescue Unit and Aerospace University with the support of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

ON the national carrier, the minister stressed that all necessary agreements and arrangements with other partners had been worked out, making 2021 the year the plan that has been in the pipeline, would be actualised.

“This government, right from inception in 2015, has been planning and strategising on how to resuscitate national carrier for Nigeria as far as global air transportation is concerned. The plan, going by what is on ground now, will be actualised next year through the PPP arrangement,” he said.

The FG, in July 2018, unveiled the name and logo of the proposed carrier at the Farnborough International Public Air show in London, ahead of the initial take-off on December 24 of that year. Lack of budgetary provision and criticism by the public, however, forced the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, to “temporarily” ditch the December roll-out plan.

The national carrier was intended to replace the defunct Nigeria Airways that ceased operations in 2003. The replacement was designed as a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with the FG likely to own as much as 10 per cent stake.

The equity was backed by N47 billion in the 2019 budget to help the airline take off after it reached the procurement stage just before the 2019 General Elections. The national carrier also featured in the N27 billion bailout fund earlier proposed for the aviation sector in the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic.

The minister described aviation is the fastest-growing sector of the Nigerian economy despite the setback suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indications to this effect, he said, were that 10 new airports would come up in the country in states like Benue, Ekiti, Nasarawa, Yobe, in addition others taken over by the Federal Government, namely Gombe, Kebbi, Dutse, and Zuru airports.

He said, however, safety and security were more important issues in the aviation sector than establishment of new airports.

“It is safety and security issues first before anything else in the aviation sector. That is why efforts are being made to put some of the airports, with issues of failing infrastructure, in good shape,” he said.

The minister and the Senate Committee agreed on the need to site another airport in Lokoja, Kogi State as an alternative to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.

“Lokoja is an important northern town. It is a cosmopolitan town, it’s a mini Nigeria and it is extremely very important in growth and development of our country,” Chairman of the Committee, Smart Adeyemi, said.

Also justifying the need for an airport in Lokoja, the aviation minister said: “We have a lot of agricultural activities around there. There is fishery; there is perishable item production and so on. So siting an airport there is quite apt. For me, it is something we should have done long ago for its importance,” Sirika said.

Reacting to the 2021 date for the national carrier, a stakeholder and Secretary-General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd.), said Nigeria could not afford to be a bystander in the quest to relaunch national carrier, hence the plan to establish it must continue.

Ojikutu advised that Nigeria Air must be done with foreign technical investors holding not more than 40 per cent, while Nigerian credible investors should own 20 per cent stake; Nigerian IPOs 25 per cent; Federal Government five per cent and state governments 10 per cent. He commended government for the projects in the aviation sector but noted that government could not do them alone without involving private investors.

“We must not fall again into the traps we found ourselves with the Nigeria Airways, which was run more like a government airline than a national carrier.

“Without the participation of foreign technical partners and investors, Nigeria investors and the Nigerian public, with the government having some shares but not controlling shares, the dreams of credible national carrier and airport concession may end up being just dreams or another disaster in government-owned enterprises,” he said.