An Antiguan aviation consultant with connections to Africa is raising concerns about Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s hasty plans to launch the Nigeria-based carrier branded Antigua Airways – adding to the concerns already voiced by the United Progressive Party (UPP).
The consultant, who is based in the United States, refers to reports from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which indicate that Nigeria is currently withholding US$450 million in revenues earned by international carriers operating in that country.
Emirates is the latest international carrier to suspend flights to Nigeria due to its inability to repatriate monies it is owed.
As the nation tackles a severe dollar shortage, Nigeria has restricted access to foreign currency for investors, and IATA’s Vice President for Africa and the Middle East – Kamal Al Awadhi – has described talks with Nigerian officials to release airline funds as a “hectic ride.”
Accordingly, the UPP is raising concerns about the viability of the hasty airline deal to establish direct connections between the Caribbean and West Africa.
“PM Browne has admitted that the venture is risky. Amid the challenges that major airlines are facing in repatriating funds, why has he been so quick to jump into this deal?” asks Harold Lovell, Political Leader of the UPP and a former Minister of Tourism and Aviation.
“Under the ALP, we have had too many failed projects, and one of the main reasons is the lack of due diligence. The PM needs to slow down; do some independent research; and carefully weigh the risks involved,” Lovell cautions.
A formal agreement was signed between the Government of Antigua and Barbuda and Nigerian publishing and printing firm Marvelous Mike Press Limited earlier this month.
The Administration claims that Antigua and Barbuda will earn 20 percent of the profits in this venture, which, reportedly, will be financed by African investors.
Under the arrangement, planes are to be leased and the airline’s flight crews will be subcontracted. Service is expected to begin in mid October, although details about the flight schedule and bookings system have not been published.
Meanwhile, a local businesswoman is asking why the Government is allowing Antigua and Barbuda’s name to be used on what is a Nigerian venture. She notes that if the venture fails or otherwise “goes bad, it is our name – not Nigeria’s – that will be tarnished.”
Other residents are asking why no one has heard from Sir Robin Yearwood, the sitting Minister of Aviation, on this deal.