ETHIOPIAN Airlines is looking to expand its presence into the Nigerian market by coming up with a formula whereby it works with the federal government to operate a national carrier in conjunction with local private operators.
Over the last 10 or so years, Nigerian government officials have made several attempts to launch a national carrier to replace the defunct Nigeria Airways. Founded in 1958, Nigeria Airways folded in 2003 having accumulated debts that outstripped its revenues from the mid-1980s and since then, Nigeria has been without a national carrier.
Last year, aviation minister Hadi Sirika, announced plans to launch a new national carrier to be known as Nigeria Air at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK following extensive negotiations with several international airlines and aircraft manufacturers. However, the plan fell flat as funding for the carrier was not included in the 2018 budget.
Hoping to cash in on the vacuum, Ethiopian Airlines has held several meetings with the federal government and private sector players about creating an alternative pan-African carrier. Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam, added that the lack of a national carrier in Nigeria that could compete favourably with other international brands was not good for the country and for Africa.
He added that the non-existence of an indigenous airline in Nigeria fully involved in international operations was a big threat to the aviation sector in Africa. Mr Gebremariam explained that non-African carriers had the biggest share in terms of percentage volume on international routes in African countries, as well as across the globe.
Mr Gebremariam said: “We have been discussing and exploring possibilities to establish or support a strong airline in Nigeria. I don’t mean that there is no strong airline in Nigeria but we want an airline that can satisfy the demand of the domestic market, the regional market and international market.
“We are also in talks with Ghanaian government to establish Ghana Airways but the biggest market which is Nigeria has been a challenge to be honest with you. We make sure that when we start something, we start professionally and make sure that it succeeds.
“Nigeria is a very large country but unfortunately, since the demise of Nigeria Airways, we are unfortunate that we don’t have a strong carrier. So, this concern is part of continental concern because in Africa, non-African carriers have the biggest shares as around 80% of the traffic between Africa and the rest of the world is carried by non-African carriers, while the home-grown carriers have only 20% of the market.”
He added that it used to be 60% some years ago but now the share is coming down. Mr Gebremariam said that they have to make sure that they work together with all African countries to ensure that there are strong home- grown indigenous carriers as happened in Togo with Asky.