Nigeria: Significance of Ibom Air to Emmanuel's Investment Drive

26 February 2021

Lagos — Governor Udom Emmanuel has shown boldness in opening up Akwa Ibom State for investment.

One of such is the Ibom Air, a signature project of his first term in office, which some naysayers had considered a bad investment, pointing out that it is capital intensive and that the industry is volatile.

The governor, however, looked beyond those myopic considerations to the big picture of the opportunities ownership and operation of an airline offer to a state like Akwa Ibom that is taking giant strides in industrialization.

His unshaken belief was what led to the materialisation of the dream in 2019 when the first set of aircraft was delivered at the Victor Attah International Airport.

Since then, the governor's coordinated developments have shown that rather than being a vanity project, the Ibom Air was a cog in the development blueprint of the state.

Aviation business has often been considered as the preserve of the federal government, but Akwa Ibom has broken the jinx, becoming the only state that operates an international airport.

Others may argue blindly that the airline is nothing else but an ego-massaging project; they cannot, however, detract from some of the benefits outlined by Gov Udom Emmanuel, who pointed out that "we are running Ibom Air as a business, paying particular attention to Akwa Ibom people."

For all intent and purpose, having an airline further aids the diversification of employment opportunities. Ibom Air could directly employ about 400; in the long run, it could indirectly engage 3,000 others. The vision is not only the creation of thousands of jobs but also enhancement of acquisition of advanced aeronautical skills as pilots, engineers and even cabin crew.

With his corporate background, it is expected that the governor would have a viable business angle to every one of his projects. This is especially true of Ibom Air, as he conceded: "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 significance of Ibom Air is not far-fetched: given the spate of industrialization around the South-South region, Akwa Ibom is poised to control regional aviation in the country.

The big picture is overwhelming. A Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility will hand the state the advantage in becoming an aviation hub that maintains fleets of aircraft across the country. It is in line with this objective that the state government is working on building world-class terminal buildings at the airport.

There is hardly any reason to question the logic or legitimacy of establishing Ibom Air. With intense industrialization going on, whereby 15 industries have been entrenched in the past three and a half years, and the state's stock rising to become the second most attractive destination of direct foreign investment, it will amount to a lack of oversight for the state not to have its own airline, given that the country doesn't have one either.

On this count, Governor Udom Emmanuel deserves kudos for his visionary and industrial initiative.

There is no overlooking the fact too that Ibom Air is a huge factor in the projection of the image of Akwa Ibom to the world.

Though one of Africa's youngest airlines, Ibom Air nonetheless, could dramatically change Nigeria's aviation landscape. With a steady increase of its fleet from a single Bombardier CRJ900 to five and more to come in 2021, Akwa Ibom now has the opportunity to control regional air travel in Africa. One can take a cue from the several routes the young airline has opened from Uyo, its hub. Domestically, Uyo, the state capital now connects to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in (Abuja), Margaret Ekpo International Airport (Calabar), Akanu Ibiam International Airport (Enugu) and Murtala Muhammed International Airport (Lagos).

The increase in its fleet means additional aircraft will enable Ibom Air to widen its latitude into international destinations. Already, plans have been mapped out to include Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, a city that is not far from Uyo, but which up till this moment lacked direct link. Other cities in West and Central Africa that it is looking forward to connecting are Accra (Ghana), Libreville (Gabon) and Douala (Cameroon). Once its terminal is completed, Ibom Air can start full international flights by the first quarter of 2022. So far, Ibom Airs' future as a major player in Africa is clear and workable.

With new aircraft, bold and ambitious plans, and strong support, Ibom Air is doing everything right in the marketplace. It is only a matter of time before the carrier broker new routes, claim market share and transform into an aviation juggernaut. Such a development will have a multiplier effect on the economy of the state. More investors coming into the state would translate into a better economy and increased productivity. Presently, Akwa Ibom State is the highest oil and gas producing state. The state's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is at least $11, 179m, one of the largest in Nigeria.

Other developments are certain to follow, such as the establishment of search and rescue centre, the establishment of a flight training school, and the construction of a power station to supply electricity to the airport.

Again, sceptics might still harp on the question: what informed the state's decision to take such a step in a country where airline mortality is very high?

The answer is short and direct: The airline is crucial to Governor Udom Emmanuel's economic development plan for the state.

With the comparatively good infrastructure already in place, and coordinated industrialisation programme in full swing, the governor has also kick-started tourism drive through a "Visitors' Programme" conceived to market the state as the ideal destination for leisure including sporting, social and corporate events. Such a grand scheme would be defeated without Ibom Air. The airline will facilitate ease of access for tourists and investors alike.

Many have also expressed fear of mismanagement, the ubiquitous Nigerian factor, which could lead to frittering away of billions of naira invested in the project and thus brings about an early demise of the airline. This concern was dispelled by the governor's assurance that the setting up of Ibom Air was meticulous and handled professionally.

Being a high-flyer corporate executive before he became the chief executive of Akwa Ibom State, he had worked with top-notch professional consultants (local and international) to prepare a comprehensive business plan and financial model for the airline.

This was underscored by the fact that even while the state government exclusively owns Ibom Air, its management, its operations are according to global best practices.

In the words of the Mfon Udoh, chief executive of Ibom Air: "The business model of the airline is a purely private enterprise, employing top-notch and tested professionals working within a world-class airline culture, unencumbered by management 'interference' from the state government."

Peter Adobamen, Managing Partner, Praxis Legal, a frequent traveler has this to say about the airline: "Ibom Air is in a class of its own, and is way ahead of its competitors in terms of excellent service delivery, giving value for money, promptness as to flight schedules.

"With Ibom Air, one can leave Lagos in the morning, catch up an appointment in Abuja, finish a meeting in Uyo and still get back to Lagos all in one day. This is revolutionary."

Overall, Governor Udom Emmanuel had proven that he is a man who thinks outside the box.

As the former Senate President, Bukola Saraki had said, Udom Emmanuel, is a man who has the interest of his people at heart.

"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 realised. 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." These are the words of Saraki during the inauguration of Ibom Air.

Akwa Ibom is still work in progress, but the people of the state have confidence that the second term outing of their governor "will bring better deals for the betterment of the people."

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