Nigeria Air Offers A Potential For A New Powerhouse in Africa

LONDON – With Emirates & Qatar Airways interested in helping new carrier Nigeria Air launch next year, this opens up a potential for a new powerhouse in Africa.

With the two carriers rallying behind this, it is unclear who is going to offer the most help at this stage, but there can be some shortcomings that could come from this.

This piece will look at both Emirates & Qatar Airways and how previous interconnectivity with start-ups has either been a bad thing or a good thing.

Qatar Airways-Air Italy Venture Didn’t Really Work…

The Qatar Airways-Air Italy venture, which occurred in 2018 following the merger with Meridiana, offered signs that it didn’t really work.

Evidence in this regard is the fact that the airline was only in business for two years, before suspending operations in February 2020 and maintaining PSO routes until April 2020.

Whilst it was an interesting idea, there were severe doubts as well as allegations about the conduct of this business, particularly on the long-haul element.

Because of the support Qatar Airways was giving to the carrier, there were allegations of Open Skies treaty violations as the Qatari flag carrier is state-supported.

So, it wasn’t a great start anyway, particularly with the PR damage that the US3 was placing on the carrier across the pond.

Within two years, the carrier went bust, with Forbes notably writing that “In Italy, it seems, only Alitalia can afford to fly bankrupt”, offering a perspective on how Qatar Airways may have misunderstood the Italian market.

The same could happen with Nigeria Air if they were to ever got involved with them.

According to, Nigeria Air’s ownership structure will be established by the following aspect:

“The replacement [for Air Nigeria] was conceived as a public-private partnership project, with the federal government holding only a 5% interest. Nigerian financial and institutional investors would hold 46% of the company, with international partner airlines and technical partners owning the remaining 49%.”

So if Qatar was to play this game, they would have to learn from the mistakes made at Air Italy and ensure that they get it right this time around, otherwise, the potentially new powerhouse of Africa won’t last very long.

Is Emirates The Best Choice For This?

It may seem that Emirates isn’t really the best choice for such support either.

John Ojikutu, the Secretary-General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative believes that the airline can succeed without the support of Middle-Eastern, American or European help:

“Using Qatar, Turkish or any Middle East country, E.U. and U.S. airlines that are on our BASA routes, in any partnership, cannot profit the airline. Get technical partners from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and so on”.

This represents quite a bold statement, especially with Ojikutu encouraging “the federal and state governments not to take more than a 10% interest in the airline to make it a flag-carrier rather than a national airline”.

Based on the experience of Qatar Airways and Air Italy, this may offer the view that they have seen what the airline has done in Italy and may have been put from this.

This could have developed a theme of business-based distrust, which is why the likes of Ojikutu may even go as far as recommending declining help from Emirates.

Emirates may only be there to provide technical help, as they typically don’t really delve into the acquisition area of the industry.

For example, back in May 2012, the then Executive Vice Chairman of Emirates Sir Maurice Flanagan mentioned that airline acquisitions are “not worth it”, and that has been a theme of Emirates in the past few years.

So maybe Emirates is only a decent enough choice, but to offer technical and maintenance-based support, which they are well-known for as well.

Will Other External Airlines Be Able to Help?

As mentioned by Ojikutu, looking in the areas of Australia, New Zealand & Canada may offer more solidity in its airline operations when Nigeria Air launches in 2023.

Those three countries are well-known to have considerably positive safety records as well as overall stability too.

It is clear that Nigeria Air is looking for partners who offer that mold, and will not go with anyone who doesn’t provide 100% commitment to the brand.

In that case, however, there may be external airlines or companies who may be able to help, but the list will be very limited.

Whilst it would only give them a few options to pursue, all it takes is to strike the right deal and then the airline is set for launch.

To The Future…

What remains clear is that Nigeria Air can become a powerhouse in Africa, but only if it is done right.

The African aviation industry is volatile enough and can be very difficult for new starters so launching this airline has to be done right.

It will be interesting to see which technology or airline-based partners do sign contracts with the carrier and whether this will propel the airline to where it needs to be by launch day in 2023.

What does remain clear is that Emirates nor Qatar Airways should get involved on a financial stake basis, but maybe technical help could be a better option moving forward.

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