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Local airlines want court to terminate FG’s national carrier deal with Ethiopian Airlines

The FG says Ethiopian Airlines was the only flight operator that fulfilled all the stipulated conditions laid down by Nigeria.

Ethiopian Airlines plane. (Guardian)

The Airline Operators include Azman Air, Air Peace, Max Air, Topbrass Aviation, and United Nigeria Airlines.

Why is this important?: In the suit instituted against the government on Friday, November 11, 2022, the airline operators and their association listed Nigerian Air, Ethiopian Airlines, Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, as defendants.

The airlines asked the Federal High Court of Nigeria in Lagos to terminate the government’s national carrier deal with Ethiopian Airlines.

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According to The Punch, the indigenous airline operators also want the court to withdraw the Air Transport Licence already issued to Nigeria Air by the Federal Government/Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.

They further maintained that the firm which served as Transaction Adviser for the deal was linked to the minister of aviation, adding that the company was incorporated in March last year.

The local airlines also claimed that the licence issued to Nigerian Air did not pass through the normal security clearance.

They argued that the Federal Government’s partnership with Ethiopian Airlines would send local airlines out of business because the deal would open up the domestic air travel market to Ethiopian Airlines.

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The local airlines’ demands: In the court document, the local airline operators asked the court to issue an order directing the immediate revocation and cancellation of the Air Transport License issued by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to Ethiopian Airlines.

They also demanded an order of N2bn only as damages “for the injury suffered by the Plaintiffs and still suffering as a result of the wrongful exclusion of the Plaintiffs, wrongful action; unlawful bidding and selection processes and their wrongful projection of the plaintiffs as not having properly, rightly and timely bid for the Nigeria Air project.”

The backstory: Recall that two months ago, the Minister of Aviation in Abuja announced Ethiopian Airlines Consortium as the preferred bidder for Nigeria Air.

Explaining the reason the Federal Government picked Ethiopian Airlines as the preferred bidder, Sirika said the airline operator was the only airline that responded to the government’s requests for expression of interest.

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He added that Ethiopian Airlines was the only flight operator that fulfilled all the stipulated conditions laid down by Nigeria.

He said despite his personal effort to meet and convince other airlines about the project, they ignored Nigeria’s call to join hands with the country to float a national carrier.

The minister’s words: We did not cede Nigeria Air to Ethiopian Airlines. It is the only airline in the world that made $1bn profit even during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the most prosperous, efficient and leading airline in the African continent and it was the only airline that responded to our request for partnership to run the airline after many months of advertisement of expression of interest.

“Even after some interested persons asked Nigeria to extend the time of EoI and we did, none of them showed interest. Officials of the Ministry of Aviation led by me personally visited some of the leading airlines across the world and pleaded with them to take up the partnership with Nigeria to set up the airline.

“None of them signified interest except Ethiopian Airlines, which has been allotted 49 per cent shares, while Nigerian institutional investors take up 45 per cent and the Federal Government will take up only five per cent.

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“The choice of Ethiopian Airlines is good for Nigeria and it is in line with the African Union Agenda. Our desire is for Africa to come together and lead the African aviation market through our new partnership with Ethiopian Airlines. The partnership will also reduce cost of operations and airfares for Nigerian and African air travellers as opposed to the current situation.”

Meanwhile, some Nigerians have criticised the FG-Ethiopian Airlines deal as many described the project as a win for the East African carrier and a huge loss for Nigeria.

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