Nigeria Air, a new airline project backed the Nigerian government, faces an uncertain future after the country’s Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, has ordered its suspension, local media has reported.
The minister, who was appointed to his current role in early August 2023, is also reported to have ordered an investigation of the contracts and projects signed by his predecessor.
The project to launch a new national carrier in Africa’s most populous nation has been marred by controversy, legal challenges and repeated delays.
Nigeria Air was expected to launch in the first half of 2023 and was officially ‘inaugurated’ in May 2023. One aircraft, a Boeing 737, painted in Nigeria Air’s livery, was flown to Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, to be paraded in front of the media. However, it later emerged that the aircraft had been temporarily borrowed from Ethiopian Airlines, a partner in this project which has a 49% equity stake in the new carrier.
October 2023 was subsequently announced as the new launch date. Ethiopian Airlines CEO Mesfin Tasew even revealed some details, such as the intention to operate an eight-strong fleet, with two wide-body and two-narrow body aircraft.
The recent statements by the country’s new minister, however, have now put this in jeopardy.
The establishment of a new flag carrier has been heavily contested by Nigeria’s incumbent operators, which see it as a case of unfair competition.