We’ve seen many surprises at the Farnborough Airshow this week, including the birth of a new airline. But the politics behind it are even more interesting.
Nigeria has struggled to maintain a viable flag carrier over the decades. Nigeria Airways failed. Air Nigeria failed. Arik, a public-private partnership, has largely failed. But yesterday, Nigeria Air was born…well, at least conceived.
The carrier plans 84 routes and is mulling A330 orders, among others. Like Arik, it will be a public/private partnership. What will make this airline different, besides the livery?
It may be Ethiopian Airlines.
Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s largest airlines and also consistently profitable. As Ethiopia has sought to assert influence in the region, it has also become an investor in other airlines. Per Bloomberg:
Ethiopian Air already owns stakes in Malawi Airlines and Togo-based Asky Airlines and aims to secure equity holdings in new carriers in Zambia, Chad, Mozambique and Guinea by the end of the year while helping to manage existing operators in Equatorial Guinea and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Earlier Tuesday the government announced plans for the company to buy a 20 percent stake in Eritrea Airlines as part of a new peace deal, with flights between the neighboring states starting Wednesday.
Next up: Nigeria. Tewolde GebreMariam, Ethiopian’s CEO, sat down with Nigerian officials earlier this week to discuss investment in Nigeria Air. No formal announcement has been made, but a backing by Ethiopia could this latest Nigerian start-up the boost it needs to get off the ground.
For his part, Tewolde expects Ethiopian Airlines will not be the only investor looking toward Nigeria, singling out the eccentric CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, by name. Baker has thus far denied any interest in a Nigerian investment.
A cautionary tale for Ethiopian Airlines: aviation unions are already protesting, saying the government still owes them money from now defunct Nigeria Airways. I hope Ethiopian Airlines, which has performed so well, will not go down the Etihad Airways investment path…which only led to destruction.