During a tour of Ethiopia Aviation University in Addis Ababa in November 2023, this writer and other members of the team from Nigeria came into a class where over 30 students from Akwa Ibom State were being trained on aircraft maintenance by seasoned young instructors.
What was particularly interesting about the beneficiaries of the training was the fact that these were young Nigerians between 18-25 years, the new generation of young men and women being groomed to take charge of the future in Nigeria’s aviation industry.
This also showed the commitment of Akwa Ibom State in the development of aviation in Nigeria and this is one of the batches of the young people from the state who have been trained in different areas of aviation.
Akwa Ibom, a sub-national whelped a vision to bring development to the state. It did not follow the beaten path, it carved a niche for itself by going into aviation, an area that is capital intensive, sensitive and very professional.
As catalyst to economic development, the state wanted to create jobs for the citizens and also enhance air transport, which is the means investors and entrepreneurs, who are always on their toes, move. The target was the development of the state through investment in different sectors of the economy, including oil and gas, tourism and hospitality.
The first civilian governor in 1999 after the military interregnum, Victor Attah, started by building an airport and initiated the development of a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility. He also started training the indigenes of the state in various areas of aviation. His successor, Senator Godswill Akpabio took over and continued with the same tradition, but the man who succeeded Akpabio took it a notch higher by establishing an airline, the Ibom Air.
Within this period the state had established itself as a go to for aviation business, an airline, an MRO that will soon go on stream and high number of aviation personnel who are contributing to the sustenance and growth of air transport in Nigeria.
As sequel to the continuous development of aviation in the state, last week Ibom Air welcomed its first of the 10 Airbus A220-300 it ordered from the largest aircraft manufacturer, Airbus. The aircraft with registration number 5N- CDA,landed at the Victor Attah International Airport, Uyo to the elation and excitement of everyone who waited to witness that momentous occasion.
In a speech during the ceremony to welcome the aircraft, the Akwa Ibom Governor, Umo Bassey Eno said although the airline is owned 100 per cent by the State Government, but its growth in five years is as a result of professionalism and non- interference of government officials in the way the airline is run.
He said that in line with what the airline has started in terms of route expansion to African destinations, it would in future open destinations in Eastern and Southern Africa.
He said that government remained a continuum as he extolled the contribution of his predecessors, former governors Victor Attah, Senator Godswill Akpabio and particularly thanked his immediate predecessor, former Governor Udo Emmanuel for representing the Government in Mirabel Canada when the aircraft was handed over to Ibom Air.
Speaking earlier, Chairman of Ibom Air, Imeobasi Jacob, said it was exciting that a subnational was running a successful airline. Also Chairman of AkwaIbom Development Company Ennesette Udom assured the Governor and the people of the state that their investment is safe.
CEO Ibom Air, Captain Mfon Udo, said in terms of manpower development that the 10 aircraft ordered would need no fewer than 80 pilots.He said each Airbus aircraft requires eight pilots hence the massive training of 20 pilots and 20 engineers in Akwa Ibom and disclosed that the aircraft type acquired by Ibom Air, the Airbus A220-300 would reduce carbon emissions, offers more seats than other regional jets, has increased range and has fuel efficiency savings up to 20 per cent.
According to him, the aircraft delivery took off from Mirabel, Canada to Toulouse in France for eight hours 20 minutes. From Toulouse it flew to Abuja.
“The economics of this aircraft is that anytime we fly this aircraft we save N1 million from fuel burn in one hour flight. We fly 2,800 flights per year and if you multiply this by N1 million, we save on average N2.8 billion in fuel alone.”
He said the A220-300 aircraft type uses minimal fuel and 50% sustainable aviation fuel and 25% lower carbon emissions. Key highlights were the introduction of the pilots that flew the aircraft back from Mirabel, Canada to Toulouse, then Abuja and finally Uyo for the reception.
Reacting to the delivery of the aircraft, travel expert and organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ambassador IkechiUko, told THISDAY that everything about the airline shows intentionality and vision, which they are unveiling as they grow the airline to a desired objective.
“When I saw the young men and women they were training in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I was very happy. It gave me joy and hope about aviation industry in Nigeria. But it is only a state like Akwa Ibom can have the capacity to train that number of persons. No other airline can do that. I am happy they are doing it one step at a time. That is very impressive. We pray that things continue to progress as they are doing because one day the airline will become one of the leading players in Africa,” he said.
Akwa Ibom may have borrowed a leaf from Ethiopia: no government officials interference in Ibom Air. The state is growing the aviation industry with similar dedication.
Succeeding governors have retained the same philosophy and objective; so, Ibom Air may enjoy the same autonomous climate which Ethiopian Airlines is enjoying. When dedicated leaders share a commitment to a project and sell it to the citizens who buy it with the same enthusiasm, it becomes part of the culture. Aviation is now part of Akwa Ibom culture. In few years to come, aircraft engineers and pilots in Nigeria will predominately come from Akwa Ibom. The foundation for that good development is being laid.