Nigeria’s federal government has dismissed claims Ethiopian Airlines is in pole position to manage the country’s new national carrier.
Responding on August 14 to alleged remarks widely reported in the international media from CEO Tewolde Gebremariam that the Addis Ababa-based airline was “the frontrunner” to launch Nigeria Air, the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika said such comments were “preposterous and misleading.” He told Nigerian newspaper This Day that discussions are ongoing with a variety of prospective partners and investors including development finance institutions, airlines and manufacturers. “And these discussions are not limited to the establishment of a national carrier,” Sirika added. “There are other components of the Aviation Roadmap for which investors are being sought. These include the establishment of an MRO centre, cargo terminals, concession of airports and establishment of an aviation leasing company.
“I don’t know about Ethiopian Airlines or any other prospective investors being favourites or frontrunners to establish and manage Nigeria Air.
“The public and prospective partners and investors are hereby assured that the processes for the establishment of the national carrier, and indeed other projects in the roadmap have been guided, and will continue to be guided, by the national policy on Public Private Partnership [PPP] and its elements of transparency, accountability and the overall public interest,” he explained.
A statement issued by Ethiopian Airlines on August 15 said Gebremariam had been “misquoted by the media”. Clarifying the comments made by the CEO during a press conference five days earlier, the carrier added: “[He] never said Ethiopian Airlines is the frontrunner to partner in the Nigeria Air project. He said that Ethiopian, as a Pan-African airline, has expressed interest to partner in the project and is among those being considered by the Nigerian government.”
Plans for Nigeria Air were announced at July’s Farnborough International Air Show by Sirika, who revealed the federal government was seeking investors ahead of the new carrier’s launch.
Few details of the tender have been made public, though it is understood several other African airlines have expressed an interest in partnering with the Nigerian Government.
For its part, Ethiopian’s bid is the latest move in an ongoing programme to expand its footprint in Africa. The Addis Ababa-based operator’s CEO revealed in May the airline is in talks with Chad, Djibouti, Guinea and Zambia to set up new carriers through joint ventures, while plans are also underway to create a wholly owned subsidiary in Mozambique. These are in addition to existing agreements with Air Cote d’Ivoire, Congo Airways, Eritrea Airlines and Equatorial Guinea’s CEIBA International.
[Updated on Aug 16 to reflect the clarification issued by Ethiopian Airlines]