Nigeria's growing domestic carrier, Ibom Air on Monday commenced daily scheduled flights to Port Harcourt with plans to extend its operations to other destinations.
The airline deployed its newly leased Airbus A220-300 in its inaugural flight to Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, bringing to six, the total number of destinations it operates in the country, which include Uyo, Lagos, Abuja, Calabar and Enugu.
The Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the airline, Mr. George Uriesi, said the airline's aim is to be able to offer the promise of schedule reliability, on-time departures, and excellent service to a wider pool of domestic travellers across the country.
He also said deployment of the A220-300 to Port Harcourt is apt because the state has the capacity and the flight recorded over 90 per cent load factor on the Lagos-Port Harcourt flights and even on the return flight.
"Port Harcourt has capacity. First flight was about 90 per cent capacity and the return flight is the same thing. We expected that Port Harcourt would provide the kind of load factor to justify the use of this aircraft type and we need it to create more capacity for Port Harcourt passengers.
"We have four or five targets as our new destinations, but the decision on where we go is always based on numbers. We want to take this opportunity to assure our passengers that safety and customer satisfaction will remain at the center of Ibom Air's operations, and we will continue to work hard to meet and exceed your expectations, so that you continue to see us as your airline of first choice," he said.
Uriesi said Ibom Air has contributed in adding capacity to the country's fleet of scheduled commercial airliners with the arrival of the Airbus A220-300, which has started driving down airfares.
About two months ago, airfares were going as high as N80, 000 for one hour flight, but with the arrival of more aircraft the airfares are reducing.
Uriesi noted that the arrival of the Airbus A220-300 came at the right time to aid the airline's growth. He noted that beyond airlifting travellers from one place to another, the airline ought to also be a catalyst to tourism development in Akwa Ibom and already the benefits of having the airline is driving the dream of opening up the state to tourism, hospitality with associated businesses, which in turn are creating jobs and over all development of the state.
"Kudos should be given to Akwa Ibom for being bold enough to invest in airline business and made sure the investment was put in the hands of competent management, competent people who can run it and since they did that the state has benefited immensely in so many ways.
"These include hotel occupancy; access into Uyo; people can come in and go out. Particularly hotel occupancy in Uyo, you can't even find a hotel now when you go to Uyo because people are coming into the state every day."
"So it's a big investment and we have tried to return to the state what is expected of us. Eventually, we will return to the state, money but so far we have run it well with the resources we have been given.
"People feel the state is funding the airline, the airline is funding itself, the state invested and left, the next thing we will do for the state is to give it back but so far we are giving back every day," Uriesi said.
Explaining why the airline leased the Airbus A220-300 a new generation aircraft with great range and fuel efficiency, he said it was almost forced to do so as its choice aircraft, the CRJ-900 was becoming limited in capacity due to increase in the passenger traffic on the airline's routes.
"We were almost forced to do this because the CRJ-900, our choice of aircraft have become limited in capacity. People couldn't find seats on our flight, it was tough and so we had to bring forward our strategy to get a larger aircraft and just in the nick of time we were able to achieve that, already we have been flying for four to five days and the air plane is full, so it is justified.
"By bringing these airplanes, we have already reduced our fares. You can get N24, 000/N27, 000 tickets, yeah, it has affected out tickets, our own fares have come down because of more capacity, I don't know about other airlines," he said.
Welcoming Ibom Air to Port Harcourt, the Rivers state government commended the airline, saying that it would contribute to the development of the economy of the state, as it brings business to the oil city.
Speaking on behalf of the Governor of Rivers State, the Commissioner of Transportation, Mr. Some Ginah said the aircraft type deployed by the airline was apt because Port Harcourt of recent has been experiencing increased passenger movement, as flights to and from the state are usually fully booked.
"Ibom Air will actually increase commercial activities in Rivers State because it is going to make the economy thrive. Most times when you get to the airport other airlines are not available, but with Ibom Air coming to Rivers you know you have an alternative.
"For now they are starting with one flight daily but I am sure by the time they have regular flights it will increase. Port Harcourt is a business hub and I want to assure Ibom Air we have enough passengers for them to do business in Port Harcourt. It is a welcome development, it is going to boost the economy of the state because more people will come to Rivers and this will ease transportation," Ginah said.