Nigeria Asks Ethiopian Airlines to Help Re-establish Flag Carrier
The government of Nigeria recently asked to forge a partnership with Ethiopian Airlines to
re-establish its national airline, which ceased operation in 2012, AIN online, a media company focused on the aviation sector, reported.
Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said that the Nigerian government approached his management for the assistance during a recent visit to Nigeria.
He said that both sides have expressed interest in cooperating. “There is also the possibility that we may discuss equity investment in the future, but for the time being it is only management contract that is under discussion,” he noted.
One-time flag carrier Air Nigeria ceased operation in 2012 due to financial difficulties, leaving Africa’s largest economy without a national airline.
Arik Air, the largest private airline in Nigeria, has served as a de-facto national carrier since Air Nigeria’s failure. However, Arik Air has also suffered from financial difficulties and mounting debt.
The Nigerian government, through the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (Amcon), on February 9 took control of Arik Air after the airline failed to pay its employees and creditors for months and grounded most of its aircraft.
Established in 2006, Arik has been serving 26 domestic, regional and international destinations including Johannesburg, London and New York with 29 aircraft, mainly Boeings. The airline operates 60 percent of Nigeria’s domestic flights.
Amcon estimated Arik’s debt profile to total more than 300 billion naira (946 million USD) and accused the airline of lacking corporate governance.
The state owned bank appointed a new management team that runs the airline.
Sources close to the negotiations told AIN that an Ethiopian delegation has twice visited Lagos while a high-level Nigerian delegation came to Addis Ababa to discuss how Ethiopian Airlines might assume control of Arik Air’s management.
A member of the Ethiopian delegation that went to Lagos for the negotiation added that the Nigerian authorities wanted Ethiopian to take over Arik immediately to save the airline from collapse. “But we want to take some time and assess legal issues carefully,” the senior executive said.
Ethiopian Airlines is a big player in Nigeria, serving four destinations in Africa’s top oil producing country - namely Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Enugu - from its main hub in Addis Ababa.
“Ethiopian is a pan-African airline,” Tewolde said. “We served Nigeria for many years in good and bad times. Ethiopian Airlines is as old as Nigeria because we started flying to Nigeria right after decolonization.”
Ethiopian has invested in ASKY Airlines in West Africa and Malawi Airlines in southern Africa and manages both under contract. The Ethiopian flag carrier also continues to negotiate with the governments of Rwanda, Uganda, DRC and Zambia to form similar partnerships.
ENA/Addis Ababa March 23, 2017.