The Federal Government says adequate preparations had been made and the sum of N78.96 billion had been budgeted in the 2021 Appropriation Bill to implement the plan for a new national carrier, among other projects next year.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who disclosed this on Tuesday during the defence of the 2021 budgetary allocation to his ministry before the Senate Committee on Aviation, said the establishment of the national carrier would be carried out in partnership with the private sector.
The Senate Committee on Aviation, however, frowned on the state of disrepair of Ilorin, Minna and Makurdi airports. Sirika explained that the Aviation Roadmap that was unveiled in 2016 would get good attention in the 2021 budget, with the national carrier, already christened Nigeria Air, taking the lead.
The national carrier was intended to replace the defunct Nigeria Airways that ceased operations in 2003. The replacement was designed as a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with the FG likely to own as much as 10 per cent stake.
The equity was backed by N47 billion in the 2019 budget to help the airline take off after it reached the procurement stage just before the 2019 General Elections. The national carrier also featured in the N27 billion bailout fund earlier proposed for the aviation sector in the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic.
The minister described aviation is the fastest-growing sector of the Nigerian economy despite the setback suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indications to this effect, he said, were that 10 new airports would come up in the country in states like Benue, Ekiti, Nasarawa, Yobe, in addition others taken over by the Federal Government, namely Gombe, Kebbi, Dutse, and Zuru airports.
HE said, however, safety and security were more important issues in the aviation sector than establishment of new airports.
“It is safety and security issues first before anything else in the aviation sector. That is why efforts are being made to put some of the airports, with issues of failing infrastructure, in good shape,” he said.
The minister and the Senate Committee agreed on the need to site another airport in Lokoja, Kogi State as an alternative to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.
“Lokoja is an important northern town. It is a cosmopolitan town, it’s a mini Nigeria and it is extremely very important in growth and development of our country,” Chairman of the Committee, Smart Adeyemi, said.
Also justifying the need for an airport in Lokoja, the aviation minister said: “We have a lot of agricultural activities around there. There is fishery; there is perishable item production and so on. So siting an airport there is quite apt. For me, it is something we should have done long ago for its importance,” Sirika said.