The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has commended new Aviation and Aerospace Development Minister Festus Keyamo for further suspending the Nigeria Air (NWB, Lagos) project.

"AON continues to believe that it is not right to float a national carrier on the terms set out by the last aviation minister [Hadi Sirika], which would undermine, even destroy, the aviation sector in Nigeria with Ethiopian Airlines (ET, Addis Ababa International) waiting in the wings for a total takeover," the lobby group representing five private Nigerian carriers said in a statement. The AON pledged its "unalloyed support" to Keyamo's moves to reform the Nigerian aviation sector.

This followed reports by various Nigerian media outlets that Keyama, on August 31, said the creation of the national carrier remained on hold until he had had a chance to make a thorough assessment and brief President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. "A few months after Nigeria Air was launched with so much fanfare, using a borrowed airplane, it is now suspended. I owe it to the government and Nigerians to provide an honest assessment," he remarked while inspecting Lagos airport, reported The Guardian Nigeria. "I have given them the directive to suspend everything until I brief the President fully," he was cited by Punch newspaper.

Keyamo said he had also put on hold concessions awarded for managing Lagos's Murtala Muhammad International Airport and Abuja Nnamdi Azikiwe airport, which, together with Nigeria Air, were key projects under the aviation roadmap implemented by the immediate past Muhammadu Buhari administration, reported Daily Trust newspaper.

He further directed all airlines serving Lagos to relocate to a newly opened international terminal by October 1, when the old terminal would be closed for renovations.

The establishment of Nigeria Air has been dogged by legal challenges from the AON and opposition from private carriers fearing unfair competition from the proposed 51/49 public-private partnership between the federal government and a consortium of Nigerian investors led by Ethiopian Airlines. The consortium won a tender process run by the state-owned Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC). Still, the nascent national carrier's certification has been on ice since November 2022, when the AON won a court interdict against its further establishment. The case has been shuffled backwards and forwards between Lagos and Abuja and has yet to be heard. Meanwhile, a public outcry met a Nigerian Air demonstration flight operated by Ethiopian Airlines on the eve of Sirika's retirement.

Meanwhile, those close to the project told ch-aviation they were confident that the certification of Nigeria Air would resume at the end of September, while Ethiopian Airlines CEO Mesfin Tasew Bekele has slated the carrier's debut for October 2023.