The Nigerian Air Force has established an airline, United Nigeria, to transport Nigerian troops, but the airline will later be used for passenger and cargo transport.
The Minister of State for Defence, Erelu Olusola Obada, commissioned a Boeing 737-500 for the airline on April 11 at the 209 Executive Airlift Group Hanger, Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport in Abuja.
Obada was represented by Alhaji Aliyu Ismaila, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence. “With the coming on board of this Boeing 737-500 series, it is hoped that the NAF will build its airlift capability in support of United Nations and African Union Peace Support Mission,” she said.
The aircraft was acquired as part of a joint partnership between the Aeronautical Engineering and Technical Services Limited (AETSL) of the Nigerian Air Force Holding Company (NAFHC) and Solicom Engineering Nigeria Limited in a public-private partnership.
The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, said the 737 was the first in a series the Air Force plans to acquire for troop transport, adding to the C-130s it currently uses for transporting soldiers and materiel. A second aircraft is expected to join the first 737 around August.
According to Air Vice Marshal Ibrahim Kure, the Group Managing Director of NAFHC, the 737 would begin operations with the armed forces, police and paramilitary forces but will also be available for charter.
“One of the statutory responsibilities of the NAF is to airlift men and materials into the theatres of operation. Due to high rate of movement, the NAF, in some cases, had to go into lease with other airlines to airlift men and materials for such operations,” Kure said.
“It is believed that with the introduction of the United Nigeria Airlines, which is the name the aircraft would be operating with, the dependence on the other private airlines would reduce,” he added.
Managing Director of AETSL, Air Vice Marshal Alkali Mamu, earlier said that, “We realized that every time we take our aircraft outside, large amount of money is spent on movement and equipment. So, the air force is determined to make that we spend the money inside the country and spend as little as possible outside the country to minimize foreign exchange drain.”