Airline chief accuses Sirika of packaging new national carrier project in secrecy

The latest announcement by the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, that the much talked about national carrier, Air Nigeria, will finally kick off by April 2022 has continued to generate debate amongst key players across the country’s aviation sector.

Reacting to the April 2022 date, the chairman of WestLink Airline, Captain Ibrahim Mshelia, in an interactive session with some journalists, queried how the airline that had not been duly registered would take off in less than five months.

His words, “How do you want to start an airline that has not been registered? We don’t even know who the shareholders will be; we only know that Nigeria will have no more than five per cent. He (Sirika) has not told Nigerians or sector operators who these shareholders will be, which means he is doing it in absolute secrecy; which means he is not setting up an airline for Nigeria. He is setting up an airline for himself and he has no right to do that using Nigeria’s money or leveraging the Nigerian government.”

Mshelia, who called on the minister to be transparent about the packaging of the new national carrier, said, “There has to be transparency in the whole exercise. He must be called to order. It would take you a minimum of 12 months to register an airline when you know the name, even with government leverage, because there are incubation periods for some of these certification processes.

“You need to register, and when the CAC gives you a registration certificate, you need to apply for an Air Transport License (ATL) if they will be doing scheduled operations. We all know that every director has to fill a form because the ICAO recommended practice is that all those who operate an airline must have reputable track records, so that we don’t have criminals doing gunrunning, laundering and what have you.

“Every director on paper must be vetted by the SSS and security agencies. You fill a Personal History Statement (PHS) form and submit it and it would be sent to the SSS who will go to everywhere you put on that CV to verify.

“After the vetting, you will make an advert to last for 28 days so anyone who has an issue with the licensing of the ATL to that applicant should come up with reasons. There could be court cases going on for months or years, that should further tell you something.

“That has not been done before you get ATL so you can apply for AOC; no one needs to tell you journalists how long it takes to get AOC in Nigeria. They are not going to jump the process because it is a Nigerian project. We will not allow that, plus we are a category one CAA. They should not dare do that otherwise they will lose that status.

“He unveiled a name in Farnborough; nobody goes to unveil a name. You are setting up an airline for Nigerians, yet you hid the name from them and went to Farnborugh where nobody is but those you selected to go there to unveil a name.

“People go to airshows to showcase their products. You just saw how Overland and Ibom Air were at Dubai Airshow and made orders. There you will meet financiers who will finance aircraft for you and go with the manufacturers, and if you have good track records you can slip into it like our airlines have been lucky to get financing and signed up to get new aircraft. That’s what happens at Farnborough, nobody goes there to unveil the name of an airline. This man did it.”

Mshelia equally faulted the announcement by the minister that he had already acquired 12,000 hectares of land in Abuja to build a second runway for the Abuja airport and an aircraft maintenance hangar, MRO before the national carrier takes off in 2022.

“I just heard that he has acquired 12,000 hectares, which is about 20 per cent the whole of Abuja, to build a second runway and the MRO is coming before the airline and he has not gone to FEC for approval yet and it is coming before the airline and it is supposed to service the airline.”

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