By George Erhobor
The remarkable success that Ibom Air has recorded in less than two years of operation has once again brought to the fore, what could be achieved when leaders demonstrate the political will to take decisions on issues they know are in public interest, no matter how unpopular those decisions might appear to be. The decision by Governor Udom Emmanuel of AkwaIbom State, in 2019, to establish a government-owned airline wasn’t one that went down well with some people in the state, especially naysayers and cynics who are wont to criticize every of his actions but who, as events have often shown, cannot see what the governor sees while taking those actions. Examples abound all over the state – in infrastructure, industrialization, healthcare delivery, agriculture, etc – of decisions that were criticized at the beginning, but which have turned out to be in the best interest of the people of the state. Ibom Air is one of them.
The success of Nigeria’s youngest airline, the first to be established by a state government anywhere in Africa, is evident in the fact that it has, within so short a period, won the hearts of air travelers on routes it covers, for its efficiency, quality services, safety, ability to keep to schedules and high level of professionalism by the staff, both on ground and in the air.
The acceptance of the Uyo-based airline by the air travelling public is reflected in the fact that in less than two years of coming into existence, it is operating flights to Abuja, the nation’s capital; Lagos, the country’s commercial nerve centre, Calabar and Enugu. And there are plans to expand the routes, especially with the acquisition, August last year, of the fifth Bombardier CRJ900 sleek-bodied aircraft.
As a regular traveler on the Abuja-Lagos and Abuja-Uyo routes, I have found Ibom Air the ideal airline for today’s busy executive or businessman who has to work at different locations at different times. On the numerous occasions I have used the airline on those routes, I cannot remember when I had to contend with flight delays, which could sometimes run into hours – something that is common with some airlines. Apart from the Abuja-Lagos route which is the busiest in the country, on which all the airlines operate more than one flight daily, the Abuja-Uyo route is the other one on which I can travel return, same day, and only on Ibom Air. I do not face the need to pass the night in the AkwaIbom State capital because there is no return flight outside the state when I am done with the business that takes me there. I do so only when it is dictated by the length of time I would spend in the state.
Apart from the revenue Ibom Air would generate, including foreign exchange, there is the public relations angle of taking the name of the state beyond the shores of Nigeria when it commences international operations with flights to Ghana, Cameroun, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, among others.
The ease by investors to access AkwaIbom through the air (the other routes being land and sea), by an airline that is owned by the state, which has primary interest in the state’s economic growth is going to boost the government’s efforts at attracting investment. The in and out movement of visitors, including investors, using an airline that has acquired fame for reliability, safety and professionalism, will boost investors’ confidence in the state as an investment destination.
The success of this effort will become manifest with more investments coming into areas such as agriculture, hospitality of which the state has comparative advantage over many states, manufacturing, etc. This will result in employment generation and, ultimately, increase in living standard of the people.
An important factor that has made Ibom Air a success story in so such a time is the absence of government control in its day-to-day operations. The government made it clear from inception that the airline was set up as a business concern. It engaged the services of professionals who are knowledgeable about aviation business, and have a free hand to run the airline as a private-sector entity.
Ibom Air is one of the channels through which the government hopes to make AkwaIbom an aviation hub in West Africa. The other channel is the Victor Attah International Airport. The government’s commitment to making this plan a reality could be seen in the speed with which it is pursuing construction of the airport’s new terminal building which has commissioning date of December, 2021. The new building is designed to be able to cope with the volume of passengers it is expected to handle when international flight operations begin in February, 2022.
A major plank that will stimulate business at the airport is the MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) facility for which the government has awarded a contract for its construction. The facility is expected to be a game changer in the drive to make the state and aviation hub, considering the fact that there is none of its kind in the whole of West Africa.
The economic benefits of the MRO are going to be quite enormous. It will save and earn foreign exchange for the country, respectively, as local airlines and those owned by western and central African countries will now have maintenance and servicing of their aircraft handled at the facility. The facility will not only generate employment for the youths of the state, it will also provide opportunity for them to acquire skills that meet international standards in aircraft repairs and maintenance, and make them marketable even outside the state.
An airport that compares with those in other parts of the world will present AkwaIbom as a state with the right infrastructure that is required for investments to thrive. This is what investors need to respond positively to the government’s investment drive. When this happens, the state will be the batter for it in terms of industrialization, job creation and improved standard of living.
Erhobor is an Abuja-based businessman