Nigerians living in Gabon have expressed happiness over the direct flight between the two West and Central Africa nations as Arik Air responded to their yearnings to introduce Lagos to Libreville flight, enroute Port Harcourt.
During the maiden flight at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos on Friday, the Gabonese Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency Mr. Corentine Hervo-Akendengue, hailed the airline's decision to operate to the Central African nation.
Also Nigerians, who travelled on the flight said coming home used to be a tortuous trip, which would now be solved by the direct flight between the two nations.
Arik said it was the first flight connections between the two countries, which have so much in common, including the fact that so many Nigerians live in Gabon and being oil producing nation, oil and gas companies in Nigeria have over the years longed for direct connection between Nigeria and Gabon.
By introducing a direct flight between the two countries, Arik Air said it had solved knotty problems for these corporate organisations and Nigerians who live in Gabon who in the past spent two days or more to connect either of the countries, but direct flight takes about one and half hours.
Arik Air's Chief Commercial Officer, Mr. Suraj Sundaram explained that there has not been any direct flight between the two countries for so many years, noting that flight connection is important because it will increase trade ties.
"A lot of Nigerians from the South East travel to Libreville on regular basis and we also have corporations that are dominant in Nigeria which transact business in Gabon because the two countries are oil producing, so there are a lot of traffics between the two points. It is in the interest of the two countries that there should be direct flight services," Sundaram said.
He remarked that Arik Air, being an indigenous carrier is eager to provide service for Nigerians and people in the African continent, so it considers solving the problem of connectivity wherever it arises in the West Coast because many Nigerians live both in West and Central Africa, adding that in the years ahead, the airline would remain the only dependable carrier to connect to Nigeria from any part of Africa and beyond and this is done for the benefit of Nigerians.
The chief marketing officer also explained how Arik Air intended to operate the new route, where it has deployed the newest aircraft in its fleet.
"We start every route like we have done for West Africa. We are the largest airline in West and Central Africa. We started all routes with three frequencies a week, slowly expanding it, based on demand, we move to five frequencies, then daily frequencies. Again, based on demand, some markets are serviced two or three times a day like Lagos-Accra, Ghana. We are also the biggest airline in Ghana. So these are plans we have laid over the past 10 years and we continue to do so with route expansion, aircraft acquisition, to expand into more and more destinations globally, including the African continent.
He said Arik Air has planned the flight in such a way that there is a late evening departure from Lagos and this enables all domestic flights to come into Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt to make the necessary connections.
"For example, because of our evening departure from Lagos, passengers from other domestic flights can come to Lagos to meet this flight. If you are based in Abuja, you can also go directly to Port Harcourt because this flight goes from Lagos enroute Port Harcourt to Libreville. So you can go from Abuja to Port Harcourt and connect the flight there. So you have choices both ways. You also arrive from Gabon to Nigeria in the morning. We are able to make connection in the West Coast and in the domestic flights so anybody can come to Nigeria from Gabon and connect your flight to other destinations," the chief marketing officer also said.
Hervo-Akendengue, who was visibly elated during the maiden flight to Libreville, Gabon said Arik has great vision to connect West African nations and open the route between Nigeria and Gabon to improve business and other relationships.
Also in a brief speech, the Nigerian Ambassador to Gabon, His Excellency, Mr. Bassey Archibong said the decision to operate to Gabon from Nigeria by Arik is what the thousands of Nigerians that live in Gabon are looking for, adding that it would reinforce bilateral relation and boost commerce between the two countries.