Up-close look at the emerging aviation industry in Akwa Ibom, By Anietie Usen

In November 2022, I wrote a detailed investigative report on the first Smart International Terminal in Nigeria, the Maintenance, Repairs and Overhaul (MRO) Hanger and the new 3.6 kilometer Taxiway for all categories of aircrafts, which Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State, was building at the sprawling Victor Attah International Airport in Uyo, the beautiful capital city of the State.

Today, Friday, May 26, 2023, Governor Emmanuel who will complete his 8-year glorious tenure in the saddle on Monday, May 29, 2023, is leading a cross-section of joyful Akwa Ibom people to the Airport to fulfill one of his most important landmark promises and pledge to make Akwa Ibom State a major aviation hub in the Gulf of Guinea.

For those who may not have read my original report titled THE COURAGE TO FLY, https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2022/11/26/the-courage-to-fly/, here is the extracts and close up on this breathtaking and ambitious aviation investment…to commemorate the historic events that awaits Nigeria today…

So much has already been written nationally and continentally about the multiple award winning Ibom Air, founded by Governor Udom’s government, which has consistently continue to impact and delight travelers with the three-tier operational philosophy of on-time departure, scheduled reliability and service efficiency, hitherto unknown in Nigerian aviation history and narrative.

It is true that Akwa Ibom has a bit in common with Dubai. The two are States in their own countries, Nigeria and United Arab Emirate respectively. The two own Airlines: Ibom Air and Emirates Airlines respectively. Emirates Airline began business in 1985 with two aircrafts, loaned from Pakistan International Airlines, PIA. Ibom Air also has loaned two aircrafts from Egypt Air. That’s not where the similarities end. Unknown to many even in Nigeria, Ibom Air successes is only a small part of the aviation revolution taking place right now in the serene and hospitable State of Akwa Ibom. The big picture is inspiring and the horizon beautiful and boundless..

Along with Ibom Air, the State government under Governor Emmanuel has invested massively in aviation infrastructure in a way that is second to none in the country. Today the State is showcasing its new International Terminal Building, pictured here yesterday and described by experts as “the first smart international terminal in Nigeria”. As I already stated, it is complete with Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul facility (MRO) and two Taxiways at the Victor Attah Airport. The first of its kind in Nigeria terminal is also equipped with the game-changing airport automation technology including facial recognition technology, automated vehicle counter that calculates the number of vehicles entering and leaving the airport, cameras that read the vehicle numbers and detect suspicious objects for analysis. The system also detects foot traffic and is equipped with a complete seeing observation system that makes the work of airport security easier.

Other features of the smart airport include the automated self check-in, powered by roving robots, smart lighting control system for advanced occupancy and deeming functions, automated baggage screening and weighing units which complements the robot assisted self-check-in system, infrared toilet system, etc. Said Governor Emmanuel in one of his recent inspections of the project: “Honestly from what I have seen here, the contractors have exceeded my expectations…”

The international wing of the airport also comes with a 3.6 kilometers runway and new aprons for all categories of aircraft. The MRO can take two Boeing 747 aircraft series, eight Airbus A-220 300 series and all the five CRJs now in the Ibom Air fleet. As the governor put it, on a recent visit, the new international wing is practically “the newest bride for all the aircraft maintenance companies across the globe”. Top aircraft maintenance companies in Europe and America have already submitted offers to manage the MRO.

At the same time, Airbus experts from France are on ground in Akwa Ibom to train 40 out of the first batch of 100 youths in the first phase of Piloting and Aeronautical Engineering. The second and third phases of the training are scheduled to take place at the Airbus facility in France. Said Governor Emmanuel: “This is a total approach to aviation development…You can imagine the foreign exchange this airport will generate for Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria”. It is a continuation of the vision and efforts of former Governors Victor Attah and Godswill Akpabio, the predecessors of Governor Emmanuel, to position the State economy as a tourism driven economy, just like Dubai.

It is in the context of these mega projects in Akwa Ibom State, (such as the Ibaka Deep Sea Port, Akwa Ibom Vehicle Assembly Plant, the Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Company, St. Gabriel Coconut Oil Refinery, the Electricity Metering Solutions Services Limited, the Liberty Oil and Gas Free Zone, the 21-Storey Smart Dakada Towers, the Tropicana Mall, the Five Star Ibom Icon Hotel & Golf Resort, the Four Points By Sheraton, the International Worship Centre, the Oil and Gas Exploration Field, etc, ) that political stakeholders in the State took part in the leadership election process and headhunted a serious minded businessman, rather than a run of the mill politician, as the fit and proper successor for Governor Emmanuel. Hence the surprise emergence of Pastor Umo Eno, a successful entrepreneur as the governor-elect of Akwa Ibom State.

The determinant factor and concern, was not only the continuity of projects and programmes but the sustainability of the set economic pathway and destination for the State. The responsibility was to seek out someone who would be able to identify the strategic growth poles already in place, connect the dots and reap the low hanging fruits for Akwa Ibom people and Nigeria; just like Governor Emmanuel, who Vice President Yemi Osinbajo once described as “one of the cleverest governors I have come across”.

For Governor Emmanuel, “one of the cleverest governors”, all indications point to the fact that he has a knack for picking the cleverest and best hands for tough jobs. His top choices to run the Ibom Air from onset, speaks volumes. They included the late Idongesit Nkanaga, an Airforce General who commanded the Presidential Fleet for many years and flew many Nigerian Presidents, as Chairman of Ibom Air; Imo-Abasi Jacob, a first class honours graduate and chartered accountant who succeeded Nkanga; Mfon Udom, a renowned airline captain of many aircraft types as CEO and George Uriesi, a man who has served as a General Manager of Cape Town International Airport, South Africa and Managing Director of Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, as COO. Which shows that Governor Emmanuel’s pick to be governor in 2023 must likely be the best hand now for the tough and demanding job.

Said Ray Ekpu, the respected and famous Nigerian journalist: “Whatever happens in 2023 and thereafter nobody can deny Governor Emmanuel the credit for being the first governor in Nigeria to establish an airline company that has already raised the bar in the aviation industry. Emmanuel, please take a bow”.

*Anietie Usen is a multiple award winning journalist, author and technocrat.

Usen is a regular contributor to The Frontier.



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