The Nigerian Federal Government (NFG) has commenced discussions with Airbus and Boeing to acquire the first three narrow-body aircraft for the country’s new national carrier, Nigeria Air (NWB, Lagos), according to local media reports.

A Request For Proposal published on March 7 stipulates a timeline for all expressions of interest for investment in the startup to be submitted before 1500L (1400Z) on May 10, 2022.

In a public notice published on March 28, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) confirmed that Nigeria Air had applied for an Air Transport License (ATL) to operate scheduled and non-scheduled passenger and cargo services within and outside Nigeria.

Licensing and certification of the airline by the NCAA has been slated for June 2022 while July 2022 has been put forward as the targeted launch date of the new carrier on short-haul routes, according to the RFP teaser published by transaction advisors Airline Management Group, Tianaero Nigeria Ltd, and Avia Solutions on March 3, 2022.

The wet-lease in June 2022 of A320 Family aircraft is also provided for in the timeline provided in the RFP teaser.

The first aircraft will need to arrive in the country in June 2022, report Nigerian newspapers BusinessDay and Daily Independent.

Long-haul operations would commence two years later after completion of an IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA)audit. “We plan to increase the fleet to 30 aircraft in five years. These aircraft will include long-haul and short-haul aircraft,” BusinessDay cited an unnamed source close to the airline.

The airline has chosen Abuja as its head-office and operational base. Its website is to be launched soon. Personnel have already been selected, including the managing director, project managers, chief financial officer, chief commercial officer, and operations manager.

According to the RFP, the federal government is looking for a 49% shareholder to be a private sector consortium including an international airline as technical parter, while 46% shareholding will go to Nigerian financial and institutional investors, resulting in total Nigerian shareholding to comprise at least 51%, including a 5% stake retained by the government.

The federal government first disclosed plans for a private-public partnership (PPP) for a new national carrier at the 2018 Farnborough Air Show, based on a single-aisle West African, and a double-aisle international strategy. At the time, Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika claimed the government was in "advanced" talks with Airbus and Boeing and financing houses over a fleet decision. The government at that time was also talking to Ethiopian Airlines and Qatar Airways to become a strategic equity partner in Nigeria Air. The original launch date for the carrier was December 2018, but in September that year, the government shelved its plans, reportedly to focus on the 2019 general elections. The outbreak of COVID-19 further delayed progress, but by 2021, the government rekindled its plans.

Nigeria Air is one of the federal government’s aviation public-private partnership (PPP) projects. Its aim is to allow Nigeria to benefit from under-utilised bilateral air service agreements, especially internationally; African open skies in terms of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM); a growing economy and middle class in Nigeria; lack of hubs in West Africa; and to bring in more foreign investors. According to the RFP teaser, Nigeria expects significant market growth. Supply in the domestic market has been contracting while foreign airlines dominate its international market.

The market analysis for Nigeria Air has identified at least 41 routes from Abuja (of which 30 are currently unserved and 11 have existing competition) and 44 from Lagos. The suggestion is for 10 domestic routes to be served with narrow-bodies; 20 international regional routes, also to be served with narrow-bodies; and 11 international long-haul routes to be served with wide-bodies.