Following the decision of the Federal Government of Nigeria to review Ethiopia air Carrier project, the Group Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines, Mesfin Tasew, has said the airline won’t reject the decision to suspend indefinitely or resume the national project.
Tasew, noted that the East African carrier did not initially show interest in participating in the Nigeria Air project, said the decision to submit a bid for the national carrier venture came after the Federal Government officially wrote the Ethiopian Airlines seeking its partnership to establish Nigeria Air.
He, further said the airline would comply with whatever decision the Nigerian government reached on the suspended national carrier project.
The group CEO, while speaking with journalists in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Wednesday, said the Nigerian authorities and ET management met in Abuja recently over the matter.
He said even though Ethiopian Airlines had made significant investment in the venture, it would not mind backing out if the Nigerian government chose to jettison the plan.
Tasew was against the backdrop of the several allegations surrounding the national carrier project.
“In the first place, the national carrier project was not our initiative, it was the initiative of the Nigerian government. Now if the government wants us to cancel the project, it is fine with us. We have no problem. If the government wants to continue with the project, then the government has to resolve the legal case in court.
“Otherwise, we are willing to support the Nigerian government in the establishment of the national carrier. So we leave the decision to the Nigerian government. We have no issues, we will not be disappointed if it is cancelled. We are just there to help. And if the parties asking us to help change their mind, change is a strategy, we are fine with that. This is what we told the (new) minister, that we respect whatever is the decision of the Nigerian government.”.
He said, “In May, 2022, when I took over my current responsibility, a request came from the Nigerian government asking ET to participate in a bid and help the Nigerian government to setup a flag carrier. It came in writing. Initially we didn’t want to go into that. We said we have other initiatives in other countries and we were busy but the Nigerian government insisted that Ethiopian Airlines is an African airline, which should help the Nigerian government in setting up a national carrier.
“So we had to respect (that request) because we also serve the Nigerian public and government by flying to four cities in Nigeria. We couldn’t say no. So we had to submit a proposal. We had to respect Nigeria. And we thought that the Nigerian government had choices, ET being one; but they had also requested other airlines in the Middle East, Europe to participate in the bid. I don’t know whether they participated or not.”
“We submitted our proposal and we received a letter from the Ministry of Aviation stating that Ethiopian Airlines had selected to be a partner to set up the airline. We said that was okay.” He added.
The ET boss said, “While we were preparing the shareholder agreement, we heard that some companies in Nigeria including airlines were objecting the establishment of the airline and were defaming the name of the government and Ethiopian Airlines.
“At that time, we thought that if the Nigerian government and the public didn’t want it, we could as well withdraw. But the Nigerian government insisted this was a strategic issue for Nigeria and that we should continue. When this group of people went to court, and brought a court order, we had to defend ourselves, we had to go to the court, together with the Nigerian government, including the Ministry of Transport. We had to defend ourselves. So, until now, it is not yet decided, as far as we know, it is still in the court.”
The Ethiopian airline chief also insisted the process for the establishment of the airline had started before the carrier became involved
He added, “Nigeria Air was established by the Nigerian government before we were invited. It has its own leadership, it was doing a lot of things, it had started requesting the Air Operators’ Certificate. So when we came in, it was a matter of restructuring the ownership of the Nigeria Air. For your information, the logo was already defined, it was not by Ethiopian Airlines. And we thought that if Nigeria Air is established, the benefit would be for the Nigerian public and the Nigerian government.”
He also explained why an aircraft painted in Nigeria Air colour was brought into the country and flown back to Ethiopia.
Tasew said, “At one point, the leadership of Nigeria Air, which doesn’t include Ethiopian Airlines, asked us to bring an aircraft painted with Nigerian logo to facilitate the progress of the AOC. So, we agreed with that, we took out one of our aircraft, we painted it with the Nigerian logo, we flew it for demonstration and for the Nigerian Civil aviation Authority’s inspection. So, after two days, we brought back the aircraft, repainted it with Ethiopian logo and it is flying. So, while we were here, waiting for the decision of the court, there was a change of government that took place. New ministers, high government officials came and told us there are concerns from people and they wanted to temporarily suspend the project. We said fine. I had to travel to Abuja to talk to the authorities to listen to what their intention and plan is. And they told us that they are not cancelling the project but that they wanted to study it and address the concerns of the public. They promised to come back to us with a decision, we agreed.”