Editor’s Note: September 21, 2018

National airlines just aren’t worth it

Nigeria has suspended plans to revive its national airline. Announced amid much fanfare in July the rebranded Nigeria Air was supposed to take to the skies by December.

Announcing the move aviation minister Hadi Sirika called it a “tough decision.” It’s also the right one.

Despite the persistent failure of sovereign carriers governments continue to covet them. Zambia, Uganda, Ghana and even Chad are part of a growing list of African countries currently looking to resurrect defunct airlines.

The motivation, admitted or not, is usually a misplaced sense of national pride.

What they often end up with are unsustainable vanity projects that drain public finances – something African governments simply cannot afford. 

Struggling South African Airways is a good example. Those that thrive, like Ethiopian Airlines, are very much the exception.

There is one reason to consider having a national carrier – connectivity. Africa’s fragmented and underserved airspace is a drag on trade and investment.

But instead of seeking to run their own airlines the focus for governments should be on implementing existing policies aimed at liberalising the market, like the African Union’s recently launched Single African Air Transport Market initiative

What this lacks in national pride it makes up for in commercial sense.

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