Home Feature Ibom Air: Udom’s right hand magic

Ibom Air: Udom’s right hand magic

by Emmanuel Ogundele
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Launched on February 20, 2019 by the former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, with three aircraft, Ibom Air had its maiden flight from Obong Victor Attah International Airport, Uyo, to Muritala International Airport, Lagos, on June 7.

With Ibom Air, Akwa Ibom State becomes the first state in Nigeria to own a commercial airline. The airline began operations with two aircraft, CR900 series with registration C-FWNL and C-FWNK, while the third one came on February 22 from Canada.

Ibom Air, first of its kind in the country and expected to provide much needed competition for other carriers in the region, represents one of Mr Emmanuel Udom’s cardinal signature projects of his first tenure in office as governor of Akwa Ibom State.

Udom noted at the inauguration ceremony of the airline that Akwa Ibom is the only state in the country to run a state-owned airport and run an airline, as he issued a caveat that his government would run Ibom Air as a business.

While the industry proactive governor may not be the first to float a solely state owned airline, his aim to make Ibom Air run as an entity capable of expanding the earning power of the state may be second to none among other states that have tried to explore aviation industry.

Udom, telling all that cared to listen that he meant business, struck a deal with the French commercial jet manufacturer, Airbus, for Ibom Air to get 10 new additional A220-300 aircraft to its fleet with first quarter 2023 as the delivery date for the first set.

The deal estimated at $905 million, is billed to launch the Akwa Ibom State-owned airline into regional operations, as the order also pushes Airbus to a stronger lead among other manufacturers in terms of orders placed on day three of the Dubai Airshow.

Ibom Air does not just intent to dominate the country’s airspace as a state-owned national carrier, it also plans to extend its footprint into regional routes covering West and Central Africa. The first phase of such expansion is set to cover cities like Malabo, Douala, Libreville, Kinshasa, Accra, Abidjan, Freetown, Banjul and Dakar.

Udom said upon sealing the deal with Airbus that “With this latest acquisition, Ibom Air is better positioned to contribute to driving long term economic growth for Akwa Ibom State. Ibom Air’s giant leap as evidenced by this bold step is a validation of the aviation development pillar of our completion agenda, which is on course.”

The newfound craze to own an airline by states seems to be spreading fast in the South-South and the South-East geopolitical zones.  The former governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha once floated an airline, Imo Air, without an aircraft and airport. Okorocha had once told indigenes of the state at the Sam Mbakwe International Airport, Owerri, that Imo Air owned MD-83 with the registration number 5N-SRI operated by DANA Air but this was later debunked as misleading information. As at today, Imo Air seems to have taken flight with the exit of Okorocha as the governor of Imo State.

In the like manner, Professor Ben Ayade, governor of Cross River State, has also been in the news for berthing Cally Air, solely owned by the state.  Running on two Boeing 737 aircraft delivered within a month in 2021, Cross River State joined the league of states in the country to float an airline. While much is not known about true ownership of the aircraft between the state and Arik Air, there is fear of seeing Cally Air flying the airspace beyond the expiration of Ayade’s tenure as governor of the state. Though the state hosts Margret Ekpo International Airport, however its promise to build new airport at Obudu is still very far from reality, thus fuelling the fear surrounding the viability of Cally Air.

This is where Udom’s antecedent as a private sector operator, a banker who rose to executive position in Zenith, comes to speak volume in the way and manner he constituted and is running Ibom Air.

This fact was aptly captured by Dr Bukola Saraki while commissioning the Ibom Air project, “This is the difference, when you have a man that understands what needed to be done; when you have a man from the private sector that understands what it takes to bring in investment.”

Udom had joined Zenith Bank from Diamond Bank in 1996 as the pioneer manager of its Lagos Central Branch. He was in charge of the Telecommunications Sector, Income Optimisation and Financial & Strategic Planning Group of Zenith Bank Plc. He has over 17 years active financial services experience capped with his position as Executive Director at Zenith Bank.

Udom said that the airline was a project designed to enhance the economy and create employment opportunity for Nigerians.  He added that the project was a testament to the vision of rapid industrialization based on three gateways of land, sea and air into the state.

The governor, despite his industrial sagacity, urged every indigene of the state to support the project irrespective of party affiliations. Udom said “We should learn to separate development from politics. Ibom Air is a huge achievement to us all.

“When we board these aircraft to either Lagos or Abuja and back to Uyo, the Cabin Crew will not ask you whether you are a PDP or APC card-carrying member.”

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