The federal government has appointed advisers to help it set up a national airline and develop its aviation infrastructure – currently seen as a barrier to economic growth – to create a hub for West Africa, the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said on Wednesday.
Sirika said a group of six firms including German carrier Lufthansa would advise the government on setting up an airline, an aviation leasing company and a maintenance hanger, and on creating concessions to run the country’s airports.
A cabinet meeting chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo had approved N1.52 billion ($4.99 million) of funding for the project, he added.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who promised a national airline when campaigning for election, did not attend the weekly meeting, fuelling concerns about the state of his health.
Decades of neglect and lack of investment have left Nigeria with low-quality infrastructure that is seen as a hurdle to prosperity and the government has already said that upgrading it will require private investment.
The government set up a committee on establishing a national airline in 2015, in fulfillment of the campaign promises which brought Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) to power.
An APC transition paper seen by Reuters in 2015 had proposed merging a dozen debt-laden airlines on the books of state-owned “bad bank” Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) into a single carrier that would partner with a global airline to serve the West and Central African region.
The single carrier would include Nigeria’s biggest airline, Arik Air, which AMCON took over in February.
AMCON has said it has no plans to convert Arik into a national carrier and that the government has no interest in doing so other than to ensure that the airline continues to fly.