Nigeria's aviation minister, Hadi Sirika, has declared that Nigeria Air - the federal government's joint venture with Ethiopian Airlines - will launch before the end of May 2023, despite an ongoing legal challenge to stop its establishment.

Speaking at a National Aviation Stakeholders Forum 2023 in Abuja on March 23, he said negotiations continued with the preferred bidding consortium led by Ethiopian Airlines. The next step would be the Federal Executive Council's approval of the start-up's business plan.

"Operation of local and international flights will commence soon. Before the end of this administration, before May 29, we will fly," the minister stated.

This Day Newspaper reports Sirika said the national carrier project was 98% completed. He maintained Nigeria would benefit from the establishment of Nigeria Air through reduced capital flight, development of an aviation hub, and gain optimal benefits from bilateral air service agreements with other countries and the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) - the African Union project for a single market for air transport in Africa. "The national carrier will contribute to the gross domestic product (GDP); facilitate hospitality and tourism; facilitate growth and development of the Nigerian agricultural sector and create jobs around the agro-cargo terminals," he said.

Sirika made no comments about the court case brought by private airlines banding together under the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), which was due to resume this week after it was transferred from Lagos to Abuja, according to Nigeria's The Guardian newspaper. The AON won an urgent injunction from the Lagos Federal High Court on November 15, 2022, which prevents the federal government from selling Nigeria Air shares to Ethiopian Airlines. Several postponements of the case were interpreted as political delaying tactics ahead of Nigeria's recent general elections, as a change in government could have seen the project axed. The aviation ministry's impetus to launch the project comes after Nigeria's ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate Bola Tinubu was declared the presidential election winner. His inauguration is scheduled for May 29.

Meanwhile, Sirika said the country's "Aviation Sector Road Map" project was 90% complete, increasing from 0.6% to 5%, valued at USD14.2 billion in the aviation sector's contribution to the economy. Key components of the road map, which is aimed at creating an enabling environment for the aviation industry, include:

  • the establishment of Nigeria Air;
  • concessions of four airports;
  • the development of agri-allied/cargo terminals;
  • establishment of a maintenance, repairs and overhaul (MRO) centre;
  • establishment of an aviation leasing company;
  • development of aerotropolis (airport cities);
  • establishment of an aerospace university.
  • improvement in aviation safety and security through upgrades and modernisation of infrastructure.

Giving an update on establishing cargo terminals, Sirika said these were being developed through public/private partnerships at Kebbi, Katsina, Plateau, Yola, Edo, Ekiti, Abuja, Port Harcourt Awolowo, Lagos, Kano, Enugu, and Calabar.

"The proposed terminals will have facilities such as a dry cargo terminal warehouse; a perishable goods cargo terminal with cool chain storage; climate chambers for storage and handling of temperature-sensitive products including pharmaceuticals."

On the controversial issue of USD743 million of unremitted foreign airline ticket sales stuck in Nigeria, Sirika said the federal government had implemented measures to ensure "that the money doesn't pile up again" but conceded that his ministry had limited power in the matter under the control of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).