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Nigeria unveils national carrier

Christian Fernsby |
The Nigerian government on Friday unveiled the long-awaited national carrier, Nigeria Air, in a major step forward for the aviation sector in the most populous African country.

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The aim of setting up the national carrier is to re-position the most populous African country as a prominent player in the global aviation market, Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika said at an unveiling ceremony at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in the Nigerian capital.

"We have the population. We have the geography. We have the economy. We have the people. We have the know-how. We have the market," Sirika said at the ceremony where he unveiled a Boeing 737-800 aircraft of the airline before key stakeholders, aviation professionals, and aviation enthusiasts.

The official noted that the airline, expected to boost the country's aviation sector and promote economic growth, represents a typical public-private partnership among entrepreneurs in Nigeria, the Nigerian government, and an Ethiopian consortium.

"In this partnership, we are connecting the biggest population in Africa, Nigeria with the second biggest population in Africa, Ethiopia. It is a huge market with huge potential," he said.

Nigeria and Ethiopia have a population of over 220 million and 120 million respectively, according to data from the United Nations Population Fund.

Sirika said the airline will begin domestic and regional flights soon, adding the national carrier is expected to create over 70,000 jobs when it begins full operation and have up to 30 aircraft in its fleet within five years of operation.

The unveiling of Nigeria Air is seen as a milestone for the country which has struggled to establish a viable national carrier, Zemedeneh Negatu, an Ethiopian investor told Xinhua at the ceremony.

Negatu said the new airline is expected to weather the storm and compete with other major carriers in the region, such as South African Airways and Kenyan Airways.

Nigeria had a national airline as early as the 1950s, which operated regional and domestic passenger services. Due to financial and operational challenges, Air Nigeria, the last known national flag carrier, ceased operations in September 2012.

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