By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
The recent suspension of the proposed national carrier, Nigeria Air, has elicited mixed feelings across the nation. The name and logo of the flag carrier had been unveiled with so much promise at the Farnborough Air Show in London in July. Operations were due to begin this December.
The pivotal point was that the airline would be private sector-driven. The Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, stated: “It is a business, not a social service. The government will not be involved in running it or deciding who runs it. The investors will have full responsibility for this.” Unfortunately, the drive was suddenly suspended on September 19.
The suspension may in the end be a blessing in disguise, for according to Clark G. Gilbert and Matthew J. Eyring in their article entitled “Beating the Odds When You Launch a New Venture” published in the Harvard Business Review on Succeeding As An Entrepreneur of 2011, “When an entrepreneur learns that a product or an approach won’t work, it is critical to end the experiment and move in a new direction.”
Gilbert who is the president and CEO of Desert Digital Media and Eyring, president of Innosight, a strategic innovation consulting and investment company in the Boston area of the United States, in this their insightful article that was originally published in May 2010, stressed further: “Quickly determining what’s right and what’s wrong with key assumptions and then making speedy adjustments often means the difference between failure and success.”
It is against this background of moving in a new direction that Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State’s timely intervention on the national carrier issue is very crucial. It is indeed noteworthy that while commending President Muhammadu Buhari for suspending the establishment of Nigeria Air, Governor Obiano made the strategic suggestion that the Federal Government should make Air Peace, Nigeria’s biggest airline, the Nigerian flag carrier.
Governor Obiano in a statement signed by the Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, C. Don Adinuba, maintained: “Buhari did not behave like most African leaders who think that policy review is a mark of weakness even when the policy is asphyxiating.
Buhari rather behaved like what academic researchers would call an authentic leader, that is, a leader humble enough to admit policy deficiencies and even personal errors.
The President was not held hostage by the fact that the government had launched the new carrier’s livery and logo with fanfare in London in July, or by the consideration that a reasonable amount of money has been spent on feasibility studies and the road show in London. Such expenses belong to what accountants know as sunk or spent funds, and it is not advisable to proceed with a project or programme that cannot work simply because the government wants to recover funds already spent on it.”
A revered accountant, auditor and former bank executive director, Chief Obiano stated that it would have been a contradiction for the Federal Government to make an investment in the airline at a time it is divesting its 12.4 billion shares in the Nigerian Security and Minting Company to enable the firm to become more efficient and effective in its operations. The governor upped the ante by arguing that the failure of the proposed airline should not “make the nation gloss over the need for a flag carrier but should rather make us look inward and promote an airline which will be the pride of all Nigerians.”
A leader noted for daring to always provide solutions for identified problems, Governor Obiano then urged the Federal Government to make Nigeria’s biggest airline, Air Peace, the Nigerian flag carrier.
According to Governor Obiano, “Air Peace has a larger fleet than the other indigenous airlines put together.”
It was only in February that Air Peace as the leading Nigerian carrier became the first indigenous airline to acquire the wide-body 777-200 plane for its international operations starting in this last quarter of 2018. Air Peace equally added a Boeing 777-300 aircraft to its fleet on August 25.
The trendsetting airline will next month commence direct flights to London, Houston, Johannesburg, Dubai, Mumbai and Guangzhou.
The airline had last month stunned the aviation industry when its chairman, Barrister Allen Onyema, and Boeing Commercial Airline Director, Mr Larry Tolliver, signed an agreement in the residence of the American Consul-General in Lagos for the supply to Air Peace of 10 brand new Boeing 737 MAX planes for $1.17 billion.
With this grand delivery, the five-year-old airline will increase its fleet to 30 and also make it the first West African carrier to own the MAX model of the hugely successful Boeing 737 series.
In recommending Air Peace as a deserving Nigerian flag carrier, Governor Obiano made the critical point that the airline is not just the fastest growing air carrier in Nigerian history but the most professionally managed. The thousands of jobs, economic and business opportunities the airline has created in the aviation value chain since 2013 when it was established cannot be gainsaid. In the governor’s estimation, “at the rate Air Peace is growing, it will give global airlines in Nigeria a good run for their money earlier than most people seem to realize.”
The governor’s laudatory voice truly carries thus: “Apart from its 100% safety record, its ground and in-flight services are comparable to what passengers get from such world-class airlines as British Airways, Delta Airline, Ethiopian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Etihad, Emirates, Northwest, KLM, Air France, Lufthansa, etc. There is no reason not to make Air Peace Nigeria’s flag carrier immediately.”
Governor Obiano made the necessary explanation that contrary to the thinking of some people a flag carrier does not have to be owned or promoted by the government. He cited the example of the privately-owned British Airways which serves as the UK flag carrier.
This is indeed the new direction that Nigeria ought to take in having a viable national carrier.