As the Federal Government gears up to establish a new national carrier for Nigeria, the consultant selected for that purpose has had an initial meeting with the team of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

This is as NCAA is set to bend the mandatory 50 hours empty flights for the new national carrier.

The mandatory 50 hours flight is one of the major requirements by NCAA for any start-up airline in the country.

A source in the Ministry of Transport (Aviation Unit) who was privy to discussions at the meeting which was held at the headquarters of the industry regulator, last week, gave the name of the foreign consultant as Capt. Tilmann Gabriel. Gabriel is currently a lecturer in the City University of London.

It was gathered that Capt. Muhtar Usman, the Director-General of NCAA, led the agency’s team, while Gabriel who claimed to have a team he was working with for the establishment of a new national carrier for the country was the only one at the meeting.

The source gave the names of other NCAA’s directors at the meeting to include: Capt. Abdullahi Sidi, Director, Operation and Training; Mallam Abdullahi Adamu, Director, Consumer Protection Directorate (CPD) and Group Capt. Edem Pyo-Ita, Director of Air Transport Regulation (DATR). Others were Engr. Ita Awak, Director, Airworthiness Standards (DAWS); Mr. Umeh Okereke, Ag. Director, Licensing, and Mr. Chukwuma Emmanuel, Legal Adviser, NCAA.

The source confided in our correspondent that Gabriel’s meeting with the NCAA, which lasted for over two hours, indicated expression of interest by the government and centred on requirements needed to obtain Air Operators’ Certificate (AOC), Air Transport Licence (ATL) and other papers needed for the establishment of a new airline. It was gathered that the second round of another meeting with both parties had been scheduled for next week at the same venue.

The source said: “There was a meeting between the government’s appointed expert for the new national carrier project and NCAA team last week in Lagos. The meeting was primarily on the requirements for setting up a new national carrier in the country.

“However, Gabriel who claimed to have a team of other consultants he is working with was the only one that attended the meeting with NCAA.

“We don’t know how far the entire project has gone, but another meeting is slated for next week in Lagos.”

When contacted, Sam Adurogboye, General Manager, Public Affairs, NCAA, declined to confirm or debunk information about the meeting held between the government representative and the NCAA team.

He said the agency was aware of government’s plans to set up a new national carrier for Nigeria.

Another source close to NCAA told newsmen that the ministry was asking NCAA to waive the requirement and there were indications that the regulatory agency may bow to the government in this direction.

Since the new Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulation (NCAR) Act 2006 came onboard under former Director-General, Harold Demuren, startup airlines were mandated to fly their aircraft empty for 50 hours in order to determine their preparedness for the operations they have indicated interest in.

But if the mandatory 50 hours flight is eventually waived, it would be the first time a startup airline would be given the privilege, a situation which stakeholders said was against the observance of a level playing field.

Roland Iyayi, Chief Executive Officer of Top Brass Aviation, in an interview with newsmen in Lagos, said the planned establishment of the new carrier was a flagrant disobedience of an earlier statement by Hadi Sirika, Minister of State for Aviation.

He pointed out that Sirika had said in several fora that government would not invest in the coming national carrier, but would create an enabling environment for it to thrive.

He, however, said the steps taken so far by Sirika had shown that government may be the major investor in the project.

Also, Allen Onyema, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Air Peace, wondered why the government was using public apparatus for a private venture.

He explained that steps taken so far by the government indicated that there was an imbalance in the whole exercise, stressing that investors in the carrier were not known to anyone in the sector.

“If we are saying it is going to be private sector driven, why are we using the apparatus of government for a private airline to come on stream?

“This is an aberration. Is it a national carrier being run by the government or you are running a private sector?

“If it is a private sector project, why are you using the apparatus of the government to set it up?” Onyema queried.

Abdulrasaq Saidu, General Secretary of Association of Nigeria Aviation Workers (ANAP), insisted that the plan of the government to re-establish a new national carrier for the country by December 24, 2018, would fail.

Saidu emphasised that the government was playing politics and there was no sign of seriousness from the government.

He also noted that there was no way a new national carrier would be floated without the government paying the severance packages of former staff of the defunct national carrier, Nigeria Airways.

According to him, “They are playing politics, to form a national carrier is not a day’s job. You need technical partners.

“Are they going to take over Arik? They cheaply sold Nigeria Airways, which we don’t know how much it was sold for and you want to float a national carrier.

“The airline was wrongly liquidated. I challenge them. Nothing is working in the aviation industry today.”

It would be recalled that Sirika had in May given the December 24, 2018 date as the day the new national carrier would commence.

He inaugurated a nine-man committee (Fast Track Task Force) to ensure the sanctity of the take-off date of December and other agreements reached with the transaction advisers, and selected Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, Managing Director of Nigerian Airspace Management Agency as Chairman of the committee to realise the deadline.

Other members included Capt. Muhtar Usman, Director-General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA); Capt. Abdulsalami Mohammed, Rector, Nigerian College of Aviation Technology; Mr. Akin Olateru, Commissioner for Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB); Capt. Tilmann Gabriel (a representative of National Carrier Transaction Adviser); Layi Are (a representative of Transaction Adviser for MRO and Aviation Leasing Company); Mr. Chidi Izuwah, the Acting Director General of Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC); while Mr. Ben Tukur, Technical Assistant to the Minister of State for Aviation, will serve as the Secretary of the committee.

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