© Ktree ethiopian
Photo: Ktree

Can a new Nigerian carrier, 49%-owned by Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s most successful, transform the hamstrung air cargo market in the continent’s most populous nation?

Nigeria Air will launch in early October with two wide-bodied and six narrow-bodied aircraft, Ethiopian CFO Mesfin Tasew told Bloomberg TV.

“The prime objective is to enable Nigeria to have a national flag carrier,” he said. “Nigeria is a big country, big economy, but unfortunately, it doesn’t have a strong airline.”

He said despite Ethiopian Airlines having just a 49% share, it would have a management contract. He added: “Effectively, Ethiopian Airlines will manage this airline to be successful.”

He said Ethiopian had a proven management model, citing the setting up of Asky Airlines under a joint-venture in Togo, “which today is the most successful regional airline in Africa”.

While freight was not mentioned in the interview, given Ethiopian’s impressive cargo track record, it will doubtless be looking to tap Nigeria’s huge potential for air traffic, marketing the bellyhold space on Nigeria Air’s international flights.

There are plans for the new carrier to fly 15 domestic routes and expand to West African cities and international routes, including London, New York and Shanghai.

Whether Ethiopian being at helm can drive change in Nigeria’s air cargo sector, which local sources say is shackled by inadequate infrastructure, remains to be seen, with hurdles including the high cost of aviation fuel, inadequate funding and resources, insecurity, insurance and corruption and lack of corporate governance, policy and regulation.

Local air cargo stakeholders highlight a current import-to-export airfreight ratio of 87:13, in favour of imports. They list poor infrastructure and extortion and other corrupt practices as among the factors which lead to Nigeria losing annual revenue estimated at more $250m from air exports of agricultural commodities.

Earlier this year, Logistics Update Africa reported that Nigeria was pursuing “a new air cargo roadmap”, with the government looking to accelerate competitiveness in the sector by setting up specific committees involving leaders from public and private enterprises to build and operate airports with modern cargo infrastructure.

The construction of a second airport serving Nigeria’s economic capital, Lagos, Lekki-Epe International, was approved last year.

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