By Ini Nkantion
Many, among them corporate bodies and economic state actors, do not consider investing in aviation business an option. The reason for this is not far-fetched. That line of investment is not only hugely volatile, but also capital intensive. But it is an area of business that rakes in mega-bucks to those who creatively invest in it. For instance in 2017, the global airline industry was projected to have great promise to deliver a net profit of USD 38.4 billion in 2018 alone. The International Airport Transport Association (IATA), while offering that prediction, had remarked that the 2018 projected revenue in the industry would be higher than what the industry witnessed in 2017, which was USD 34.5bn.
In spite of rising operating costs, IATA, being the operators of the business, had high hopes because they saw, “strong demand, efficiency and reduced interest payments” on credits drawn by airline owners and operators to run airline business.
As at May 2019, the result of the 2018 forecast is yet to be in the public sphere. However, one inviolable thing in the matter is that airline business is a mega-bucks affair with huge opportunities for upstream and downstream employments, ICT skills acquisition, advancement in meteorological studies, etc.
In days of swindling resources, especially in a mono-cultural economy like Nigeria’s, it makes both economic and political sense not to depend on federal allocation. Aware of this, and conscious of what opportunities the ownership and operation of an airline offer to a state like Akwa Ibom, where industrialization is gaining huge traction, the state governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, has launched “Ibom Air”. With it, the Ibom Deep Sea Port, and economic roads, being spread strategically around the state, the state is poised to elasticize
As a brand, Ibom Air, had been in the incubator, so to speak, since 2016 just at the turn of the administration’s first anniversary. But information about the project reached the citizens at a time least expected because, people had since become accustomed to believing that governance had to be put on hold on the eve of, or during the electioneering season. However, on the contrary, Governor Udom Ermmanuel was still working during the period of politicking as the first of three airbuses landed at the Victor Attah International Airport on the 20th of February, 2019. This move comes as the first by any state government in the history of Nigeria and it emanates from the ingenuity of the Udom Emmanuel’s Administration’s identification of critical sectors where government takes the lead to give the private sector a direction.
Presenting the first batch of three aircraft with registration numbers 5N-BWK, 5N-BWM, and 5N-BWL, all of them less than six years old each, and from the stock of the newest and modern fleet of the Canadian airbus, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, in a brief, but impressive ceremony at Victor Attah International Airport, gave thanks to God for making the day and the project a reality. He noted that the launch was a monumental achievement not only in Nigeria but also in Africa, stressing that the unveiling of the airline was a fulfillment of part of his blueprint development for the state. He added that every Akwa Ibom person should be proud of the state, maintaining that a lot can be achieved if the people would come and work together.
Explaining that the airline could directly employ about 400, and indirectly engage the services of 3,000 persons in the long run, Governor Emmanuel averred that the aim of his administration was to create thousands of jobs and thereby enhance the acquisition of advanced skills by the people. The skills, according to him, would be in aeronautical training as pilots, engineers, cabin crew etc. Speaking further, the governor said that “airline business is not an all comer’s affairs but is meant for those who are tested and proven,” adding that, “we want to run Ibom Air as one of the most efficient, economically viable and profitable outfits in a way that will make others come to copy our business modules”.
The governor did not lose sight of the fact that one of his pre-eminent predecessors, Arc. (Obong) Victor Attah, the progenitor of the international airport, was present in the audience. That was why, he remarked,
“I want to reassure the former governor, Obong Victor Attah that very soon, the MRO will be a place that will maintain fleets of aircrafts across the country. We are running Ibom Air as a business, paying particular attention to Akwa Ibom people. This is the only state across the country that runs and operates an international airport. We are the only state that runs a Category Two runway”.
He further added that: Ibom Air will operate routes that would give preference to Akwa Ibom people, and that the government would soon launch one of the best terminal buildings in the country. The governor used the opportunity to appreciate members of the State House of Assembly, members of the State Executive Council and others who contributed to the successful launching of the airline.
The event’s planners did not lose sight of the fact that Nigeria had to be put on notice concerning this brand, and that was why the leadership and members of the National Assembly were invited to it. In his address while unveiling the airline, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki congratulated Akwa Ibom people for having a leader in the person of Mr. Udom Emmanuel whom he said had the interest of his people at heart. He said, “… today we celebrate the audacity of hope, today we celebrate a man that has a dream for his people, who does not stop until the dream is realized. What he has done shows he is thinking of how to make life better for his people; how to improve governance and provide good leadership”. He submitted unequivocally that members of his party, the PDP, were proud to have Governor Emmanuel in their fold and lauded him for creating opportunities for people to have jobs and investments. Dr. Saraki further maintained that Nigeria needed someone like Udom Emmanuel, who understands job creation, and who will make Nigeria better, and expressed the hope that in the future, Akwa Ibom will be in a position to control regional aviation in the country.
Former governor of the state and initiator of the airport project Obong Victor Attah whose dream was to build a cargo, and a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul, MRO, airport, and who out of exasperation had begun to believe the idea would become abandoned, was full of excitement. On the occasion, he commended his two-down successor for carrying on with the project he started, and expressed the satisfaction that the State was being run as a business, adding, “I thank God that we have Governor Udom Emmanuel, who has deemed it necessary to carry on the project we started years ago”.
It was providential that another former governor was called upon to speak at the Ibom Air unveiling ceremony. One of Mr. Udom Emmanuel’s predecessors, a former military pilot and Chairman, Ibom Air, Otuekong Idongesit Nkanga in his welcome address went down memory lane and said that Akwa Ibom was the first state to develop and operate an international airport, adding that with the launch of the aircraft, the state governor had shocked his critics with his managerial prowess. He stated that Ibom Air will boost the realization of the MRO facility within the region adding that there was no stopping the visionary and industrial initiative of Governor Udom Emmanuel. According to him, “with the launching of Ibom Air, the state has blazed the trail to be the first to own an airline; so will it be with Ibom Deep Seaport. I am proud to be a part of this magic moment, where 15 industries are gotten in three and a half years, as well as being the second most attractive destination of direct foreign investment. Otuekong Nkanga, among others, maintained that the government had taken the right steps as excellent managers had been selected and engaged. He therefore expressed the confidence that the second term outing of the governor “will bring better deals for the betterment of the people.”
In his address on the occasion, the Technical Consultant, Ibom Air, Captain Mfon Udom, said that the airline was one of the vehicles to drive the economy of the state in ways that will be of benefit to the people. The projection, according to him, is for Ibom Air to be a regional airline,.. “an international airline that will cover the broad spectrum of the day, connecting the Akwa Ibom person with the rest of the world.” He said the airline is configured, at the initial flights, to fly three times a day from Uyo to Lagos and Abuja, morning, afternoon and evening. In his words, “the policy of Ibom air is that it will fly when our customers want to fly and not when it wants to fly. All successful airlines in the world are government owned; British Airways is still supported by government.
Ibom Air is a huge factor in the projection of the image of Akwa Ibom to the world. As a brand, it is a class act that cannot fail, given the human and material resources invested in it. At the moment, the three planes in their hanger are expected to be complemented by another three in 2020, as well as another three in 2021. At the moment, due process is being followed by the hour with the relevant authorities.
For instance, routine test flights are envisaged to begin shortly on scheduled routes before the commencement of commercial services, having met the statutory requirements of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority for commercial airline operation. Proven flights will be carried out on the proposed routes after the inspection of the Uyo, Abuja and Lagos bases of Ibom Air, before its certification with an Air Operation Certificate, which will authorize it to commence commercial operation. Ibom Air, which is a Limited Liability Company, is configured to be strictly operated and governed by the code of corporate governance of such companies. The aircraft, which are currently on finance lease to the state, will continually be funded till payment completion, from its operations as the fares and other services will be standardized, market driven and highly competitive. That is another way of assuring the state that with this brand, loss is out of the question.