The flight tracking website ‘flightrader24.com’ has revealed the Nigeria Air aircraft has returned to Ethiopia, its country of origin. The aircraft, which was presented as belonging to Nigeria Air, has raised serious concerns regarding the legitimacy of the proposed national carrier.
According to the flight tracker, on Saturday evening, the aircraft was enroute to Addis Ababa, approaching from the Central African Republic. However, later that evening, the tracker indicated that the flight with callsign ETH8950 was no longer being tracked, suggesting it either went out of coverage or had already landed.
The following morning, the flight tracker displayed that the aircraft had indeed landed in Ethiopia, exposing the deceptive practices involved. Earlier reports from BusinessDay had highlighted that Hadi Sirika, the minister of aviation, had reached out to Ethiopian Airlines to provide an aircraft that would be presented as Nigeria Air’s own.
Ethiopian Airlines had complied with the request by repainting and rebranding one of their Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Investigations into the matter have revealed that the aircraft, with registration number ET-APL, Mode S Q4005C, and serial number 40965/4075, has a history dating back 11 years.
The aircraft’s first flight took place on June 22, 2012, under the ownership of Ethiopian Airlines. It later operated under Malawi Airlines from February 16, 2014, before being returned to Ethiopian Airlines on August 12, 2015. Despite the change in appearance, the ownership of the aircraft remains with Ethiopian Airlines.
The revelation of this deceptive act gained attention after independent journalist David Hundeyin brought it to the public’s notice. Hundeyin remarked, “Behold your freshly commissioned ‘Nigeria Air’ Boeing 737 heading back to Addis Ababa right now as we speak, where the hurried paint job will be removed and it will go back into Ethiopian Airlines regular service.”
Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) issued a statement on Sunday through their spokesperson, Obiora Okonkwo. According to Okonkwo, the aircraft that landed in Abuja on Friday, May 26, 2023, received a water salute, typically used to mark the first flight of an aircraft to an airport. However, Okonkwo clarified that this was not the inaugural flight of Nigeria Air, as the airline has not yet commenced flight operations as required by law.
Furthermore, Nigeria Air has not been issued an Air Operators Certificate (AOC) by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the legal authority responsible for such certifications. The aircraft used for the static display in Abuja was an Ethiopian Airlines property, even displaying an Ethiopian registration number as ET-APL.
Obtaining an AOC is a crucial safety certification process that all airlines must undergo. Neglecting this process can be deemed a serious infraction by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), leading to potential blacklisting by aviation safety agencies like the US FAA and the EASA.
Granting an AOC to Nigeria Air without following the proper procedure could have severe consequences, including the restriction of international airlines operating in Nigeria and a failure in the upcoming ICAO audit. It would also jeopardize the safety certification process for Nigerian airlines, hindering their ability to lease aircraft for operational purposes.
The Airline Operators of Nigeria commended the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority for resisting pressure from Hadi Sirika to grant an AOC to Nigeria Air without adhering to the due process. They emphasized the importance of safeguarding the aviation sector, as any compromise could have far-reaching negative impacts on the economy and the nation.
The AON expressed gratitude towards the NCAA for maintaining the safety and integrity of the Nigerian aviation industry, which has been developed to meet global standards under their watchful guidance.