Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, which expects to finalise bids for its planned new national carrier early this year is seeking Gulf investors for aviation projects, the country’s aviation minister said.

Bidders for the Nigerian airline project will be identified in March and the process of finding an investor concluded by the first half of 2019, Hadi Sirika, Nigeria’s minister of state for aviation, told reporters in Dubai on Monday.

“Currently we’re in the procurement stage and investors will come and show interest and then we’ll pick,” Mr Sirika said on the sidelines of the Global Investment Aviation Summit. “It’s coming sooner than you expect.”

Plans for Nigeria Air, as the new airline is dubbed, were first revealed at the Farnborough Airshow in the UK last year.

Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, which loses billions of dollars in oil revenue every year because of militant attacks on its pipelines, is looking for an investor to back its new airline as it seeks the know-how and funds to help the start-up avoid the fate of its failed former national carriers. The West African nation has seen a succession of home-grown airlines collapse or slash routes, leaving the country dependent on air services from mainly Gulf or European carriers for travel beyond the region.

The government will retain no more than five per cent of the new airline’s ownership and the remaining majority stake is open to Nigerian and foreign private investors.The airline is part of a wider plan to improve infrastructure that suffered neglect and under-investment for years and the government is seeking private investment to improve the situation.

Nigeria’s aviation sector requires $12 billion to $15bn over the next few years for projects including the new planned carrier, maintenance and overhaul facilities, airport infrastructure and air transport management, Mr Sirika said.

The minister said he is seeking investors from the Gulf to back projects in Nigeria’s aviation sector during his trip to Dubai and has seen some interest but declined to name any potential investors.

In September, Nigeria said the plan for the new airline is suspended but Mr Sirika said on Monday the project is still ongoing.

“The plan has always been on, it was only suspended temporarily in the interim to allow it to run with roadmap of aviation industry,” he said.

Ethiopain Airlines, Africa’s biggest carrier, has shown interest in helping Nigeria create a flag carrier as it seeks to secure stakes in new airlines in the continent.

Nigeria Airways, country’s previous national carrier that was founded in 1958 and wholly owned by the government, ceased to operate in 2003.

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