Controversy greets arrival of ‘Nigeria Air Plane’ in Abuja as Ethiopian Airlines allegedly owns aircraft

Nigerians on Twitter have been reacting to reports that the Boeing 737-800 series aircraft which the Federal Government flew into Abuja for the unveiling of Nigeria Air belongs to Ethiopian Airlines.

According to Daily Trust, the aircraft took off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at 9:55 am on Friday and landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, at 12:43 pm.

Shortly after the aircraft landed, Hadi Sirika, Minister of Aviation, expressed delight that after “a very long, tedious, daunting and difficult path” the project had taken off.

Nigeria international flights Aviation Minister
Hadi-Sirika, Aviation Minister

He later unveiled the aircraft with registration ET-APL at the General Aviation Terminal of the Abuja airport.

Checks by Daily Trust showed that the aircraft is owned by Ethiopian Airlines.

ET-APL is written on the wing of planes operated by Ethiopian Airlines.

Investigations showed that the aircraft flew for its original airline up till Sunday. It embarked on a trip from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv in Israel, according to the flight history.

Flightradar, the popular flight tracking website, said the aircraft operated between Tel Aviv and Mogadishu, Somalia, still on 21 May, 2023.

On 20 May, it operated both Mogadishu in Somalia and Beirut on 20 May while the previous day it also serviced Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.

Ethiopian Airlines is a majority shareholder in Nigeria Air project. It has a 49% stake, a structure which made domestic airlines under the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) file a suit against the Federal Government.

According to the ownership structure, two Nigerian companies hold a 46% stake while the remaining 5% stake is held by the Federal Government.

Domestic airlines, namely Azman Air, Air Peace, Max Air, Topbrass Aviation and United Nigeria Airlines, member airlines of the Airline Operators of Nigeria, argued that the partnership would put them out of business by opening their market to Ethiopian airlines.

Among the list of grievances, the airlines demanded an order of up to N2 billion in damages for “wrongful exclusion and unlawful bidding and selection processes” for the Nigeria Air project.

Although Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, had announced that the Nigerian Air aircraft would arrive the country Friday, he was silent on whether or not aircraft was purchased for the project.

READ ALSO: Nigeria Air Plane To Arrive On Friday – Minister Of Aviation

But last year he had told journalists that the Federal Executive Council approved the leasing of three aircraft for the carrier.

“We have said in our outline business case, which was earlier approved, that we are starting with three aircraft for the first instance and then we progress. We will have a mixture of Airbus and Boeings because every airline that will grow big uses the two,” he said.

“We will start with domestic flights and then we grow to become international and then we move to become regional and intercontinental.

“There are challenges currently in our aviation industry but it is a global phenomenon and it will not last forever because aviation is a very resilient sector. Certainly, we will overcome these problems,” he added.

Bashir Ahmad, media aide to the President, took to Twitter to confirm the reports

He said: “It is never a secret that Ethiopian Airlines is one of the major shareholders/partners in the Nigeria Air Limited projects. Never! Save the cry now, and expect to see more Ethiopian Airlines aircraft branded in our national carrier’s colors. Like NigeriaAir, many major airlines around the world are not owned by their governments, British Airways, which IAG owns, is an example.”

His tweet has sparked uproar on the social media platform with some Nigerians in support of the decision to paint an Ethiopian airplane in Nigerian colour.

READ ALSO: Court Suspends Establishment Of National Carrier, Nigeria Air

A tweep, Engr Stanley blows hot and called the Federal Government “Shameless lot”.

@adebadejo said: “Don’t mind them, Bashir. Many people that ought to know are just saying jargon. They should read a lot of business magazines and see how merger works, especially in airline industry.”

@BashirAhmad agreed with the tweep and said that is how merger works and it’s not a secret.

“Exactly, Sir. And that one is not even a secret.”

@realuweez said: “As long as it is branded Nigerian Air then it is Nigerian Air, i know one day the planes will carry the beautiful phrase “made in nigeria”

“Covering up your lies you mean,” @cuppydat reacted.

@ObHexane wrote: “Let the process be transparent devoid of fraud that’s all, I know Hadi Sirika will be lobbying for same portfolio but I doubt they will hand it to him. Nigeria has a lot of open skies agreement that are lucrative hence that portfolio will go to a caucus man.”

@abdulhabaryazid weighed in, stating: “I think the ministry of aviation is one of the MDA’s that PMB will look back and be proud of what they’ve achieved in that industry. Kudos to @hadisirika for the amazing journey it has been. I can’t help but wonder if Emirates had owned 40% of Qatar Airways,could they compete??”

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