National carriers are a big deal for countries.
Not only do they represent national pride, but they also create jobs, foster international trade, generate revenue for the aviation sector and support economic growth. For instance, the aviation sector, including two national carriers (Emirates and Etihad), contributes over 25% to the UAE’s GDP.
The Nigerian government has partnered with Ethiopian Airlines (ET) to float Nigeria Air. ET has a major stake of 49%, institutional investors have 46%, and the government has 5%.
However, the deal does not float a flag or national carrier, and this is because it is neither owned nor controlled by the government or by a domestic airline. Instead, the deal presents Nigeria Air as a foreign-owned, government-backed airline that will fly internationally and also on domestic routes.
Under the current circumstances, the Nigeria Air deal could do more harm than good to the fragile domestic aviation industry, which is why it is receiving a lot of backlash from industry stakeholders.
Multiple data points show the importance governments place on national or flag carriers, even when they are loss-making. Think about the Malaysia Airways state fund bailout or the South African government’s resolve to keep South African Airways (SAA) afloat (the airline has not made profits since 2011).
Nigeria is not exempt. Past and present governments have been so obsessed with having a national carrier that we’ve tried 11 times between 1960 and 2021—every single attempt has crashed and burned (pun intended).
Here we are, trying again, for the 12th time, with Ethiopia Airways (ET)—the best airline in Africa—as a