Ethiopian Airlines (ET) Group CEO Ato Mesfin Tasew has revealed that the Addis Ababa-based carrier was asked to paint one of its Boeing 737 aircraft with the Nigeria Air livery by Nigerian officials ahead of the attempted launch of the national carrier in May 2023. In an interview with journalists in the Ethiopian capital, Ato Mesfin provided details of some events surrounding the Nigeria Air project.
Painting and removing the Nigeria Air livery
Nigeria Air’s ‘first aircraft,’ a Boeing 737-800, was unveiled to the public at Abuja Airport (ABV) on May 26, three days before Nigeria’s previous administration left office. The aircraft had been spotted in Addis Ababa with the Nigeria Air livery the day before and then flew to Abuja, where it was welcomed by government officials and other stakeholders.
However, it was later revealed that the B737, registration ET-APL, still belonged to Ethiopian Airlines, and as such, the aircraft returned to service in Addis Ababa a few days later. This added to the controversy surrounding the establishment of the carrier. After five months, Ethiopian Airlines has denied any wrongdoing in the project, with the leadership saying that it was asked to paint the aircraft with Nigeria Air’s livery to expedite the granting of its Air Operators Certificate (AOC) by local authorities. Ato Mesfin Tasew said in the interview,
“At one point, the leadership of Nigeria Air, which doesn’t include Ethiopian Airlines, asked us to bring aircraft painted with the Nigerian logo to facilitate the progress of the Air Operators’ Certificate. So, we agreed with that, we took out one of our aircraft, we painted it with the Nigerian logo, we flew it, it was for demonstration by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for their inspection.”
The East African carrier agreed to the Nigerian government’s request to demonstrate its commitment to establishing the new airline. On the contrary, Nigeria’s former Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, had previously stated that the unveiling of the aircraft in May was Ethiopian’s own marketing strategy. He said that ET had flown its 737 on a special charter flight, which did not cost the Federal Government anything.
Ethiopian’s involvement in the airline
As reported earlier, Ethiopian would have a 49% stake in the new carrier, with the Nigerian government taking 5% and a group of private investors taking 46%. According to the CEO, the Federal Government initially invited ET to collaborate in setting up a reliable national carrier. Although reluctant at first, it came onboard because of its long-standing relationship with the West African country.
The Ethiopian Group submitted a proposal and received a letter from the Ministry of Aviation notifying it of its success. Nigeria Air was already well established, with its own leadership at the time ET joined the project. The Addis-Ababa carrier only came in to restructure the ownership, according to the CEO. The pushback from local carriers had at a certain point prompted Ethiopian to pull out from the deal, but the Nigerian government insisted otherwise.
When will Nigeria Air takeoff
Nigeria Air can be considered the brainchild of the country’s previous administration, including ex-Minister Hadi Sirika. The name and logo were first unveiled to the public at the Farnborough Air Show in July 2018, and the carrier was expected to commence operations before the end of President Buhari’s term earlier this year. Five years after the announcement, Nigeria Air is still yet to take to the skies.
In August, ET’s head stated that the proposed carrier would commence operations in October with eight aircraft comprising six narrowbodies and two widebodies. However, a few weeks later, Nigeria’s newly-appointed Aviation Minister Festus Keyamo suspended the project until all matters that are “allegedly non-transparent” are resolved.
Ethiopian Airlines accepted the minister’s decision and would be ready to help if the project is resumed. “We have no issues; we will not be disappointed if it is canceled. We are just there to help. And if the parties ask us to help, change their mind, or change their strategy, we are fine with that. This is what we told the Minister: that we respect whatever decision of the Nigerian government,” added Ato Mesfin.