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Oduah3-360x225The Federal Government is in talks with Qatar Airways to explore partnership that could help the country form a formidable national carrier, SUNDAY PUNCH has learnt.

If the talks championed by the Ministry of Aviation scale through, Qatar Airways, a Doha-based carrier which flies into Nigeria, is expected to partner with Aero Contractors Airlines to form the national carrier.

According to a source close to the talk, the discussion is already at an advanced stage and if things work in line with plans, the Doha-based based carrier may become a technical and major partner to Aero Contractors Airline to form the long-awaited national airline.

The source said, “The government is discussing with Qatar Airways to become a major partner to establish the national carrier. Although government is talking to a couple of foreign airlines, Qatar Airways seems to have been lined up among the carriers that could likely emerge a key partner to the government on the project. Of course, it will partner with Aero.”

Government had reportedly tried to partner Irish carrier, Aer Lingus, in the national carrier project. It, however, appeared the deal did not work out.

For over one year now, the government has been in desperate search for investors among foreign airlines to partner with it to establish a new national carrier for the country.

Lufthansa German Airlines, Air France and a few other foreign carriers had reportedly turned down an approach by the government to be its partners in the proposed national carrier project.

The Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah, had two years ago set December 2012 deadline for the takeoff of the new carrier, eight years after the liquidation of the former national carrier, Nigeria Airways.

Oduah, who made the announcement during an open chat with her followers on the social networking medium, Twitter, however, said the new national carrier would be private sector driven.

According to her, the funding and ownership for the new airline will not be like that of the defunct Nigeria Airways, which was wholly owned by the government.

Last week, indications emerged that Nigeria’s oldest airline, Aero Contractors, might have been transmuted to a national carrier and have changed its name to Nigerian Eagle.

One of Aero’s aircraft, a Boeing 737-500 classic, painted with new livery and the new name, landed in Lagos Airport at about 8:45pm on Tuesday night and was secretly parked in a private hangar.

Reports have suggested that President Goodluck Jonathan may unveil the national carrier soon.

Aero, which the Federal Government owns 60 per cent of its stakes through the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, would become a national carrier, according to reports.

About three years ago, the defunct Air Nigeria earlier changed its name to Nigerian Eagle when it was under the management of Capt. Dapo Olumide before it was taken over by Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim under whom the airline went under. Ministry sources have, however, denied that the Nigerian Eagle would become the national carrier.

Special Assistant (Media) to Minister of Aviation, Mr. Joe Obi, could neither deny nor confirm the plan to make Aero to partner with Qatar Airways to for the national carrier.

“All I can say is that the Minister of Aviation is committed to the national carrier project. When the time comes, it will be unveiled,” he said.

Qatar Airways could not be reached for response.  There have been calls for a new national carrier to boost the nation’s image internationally and to realise the dream of making Nigeria an air transport hub.

Our correspondent reports that government’s efforts to partner foreign airlines to establish the national carrier did not work in the past because of the lack of continuity and consistency in government policies.

There had been fears that another minister may come and may not honour old agreements.

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