The Boeing 737-800 series aircraft which the Federal Government flew into Abuja for the unveiling of Nigeria Air belongs to Ethiopia Airlines, it has been confirmed.
The aircraft took off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at 9:55am on Friday and landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, at 12:43 p.m.
Shortly after the aircraft landed, Hadi Sirika, Minister of Aviation, expressed delight that after “a very long, tedious, daunting and difficult path”, the project had taken off
He later unveiled the aircraft with registration ET-APL at the General Aviation Terminal of the Abuja airport.
Checks showed that the aircraft is owned by Ethiopian Airlines. ET-APL is written on the wing of planes operated by Ethiopian Airlines.
Investigations showed that the aircraft flew for its original airline up till Sunday. It embarked on a trip from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv in Israel, according to the flight history.
Flightradar, the popular flight tracking website, said the aircraft operated between Tel Aviv and Mogadishu, Somalia, still on May 21, 2023.
On 20th May, it operated both Mogadishu in Somalia and Beirut on 20th May while the previous day it also serviced Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.
Ethiopian Airlines is a majority shareholder in Nigeria Air project. It has a 49% stake, a structure which made domestic airlines under the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) file a suit against the Federal Government.
According to the ownership structure, two Nigerian companies hold a 46% stake while the remaining 5% stake is held by the Federal Government.
Domestic airlines, namely Azman Air, Air Peace, Max Air, Topbrass Aviation and United Nigeria Airlines, member airlines of the Airline Operators of Nigeria, argued that the partnership would put them out of business by opening their market to Ethiopian airlines.
Among the list of grievances, the airlines demanded an order of up to N2 billion in damages for “wrongful exclusion and unlawful bidding and selection processes” for the Nigeria Air project.
Although Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, had announced that the Nigerian Air aircraft would arrive the country Friday, he was silent on whether or not aircraft was purchased for the project.
But last year he had told journalists that the Federal Executive Council approved the leasing of three aircraft for the carrier.
“We have said in our outline business case, which was earlier approved, that we are starting with three aircraft for the first instance and then we progress. We will have a mixture of Airbus and Boeings because every airline that will grow big uses the two,” he said.
“We will start with domestic flights and then we grow to become international and then we move to become regional and intercontinental. There are challenges currently in our aviation industry but it is a global phenomenon and it will not last forever because aviation is a very resilient sector. Certainly, we will overcome these problems,” he added
Commenting on the airline project earlier on Friday, Chief Executive of Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi, said the arrival of the aircraft did not translate into commencement of commercial operation by the airline.
Sanusi, who bared his mind on the issue during the interview, said it was one thing for the aircraft to arrive the country and another for the airline to commence commercial operation.
According to him, it is practically impossible for the airline to start commercial passenger operation in two days time given the rigorous process involved which he believes would not be waived by the regulatory authority, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), as the whole world is watching.
He said, “It is one thing to bring the airplane to the country, it is another thing to start the airline, getting all the necessary approvals from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
“There’s a very important and vital component of getting an AOC which is the demonstration flights. Of course there are waivers that the Director General of the NCAA has the power to give, but the demonstration flights is critical to safe operations and I do not think he would give that waiver.
“So it is practically impossible for the airline to take off in the next two days. It is not possible. Because they have to do the demonstration flights, the five phases have to be completed, the international community is looking at us to see actually whether we are actually following what the international Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has stipulated in their recommended practices and laid down procedures for commercial carriage of passengers internationally.”
After Sirika announced the launch of the airline at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK in 2018, he granted an interview where he said the carrier had also looked at 81 potential destinations, which included China and India.
Messages were sent to Sirika about findings on the aircraft belonging to Ethiopian Airlines but he had not responded as of the time of filing this report.