Ibom Air, the first state government owned airline started operation at the weekend with inaugural flights to Lagos and Abuja, from the Akwa Ibom state capital Uyo.
The airline showed its readiness to start operation as it obtained its Air Operator Certificate (AOC) last Thursday and kicked off service the following days with high load factor.
The Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the airline, Mr. George Uriesi, said the airline would carve out a niche market with efficient service, on-time departure and high level of safety in its operations.
“We don’t have any ambition for long haul at all. We will settle in the country and after a while we will go into the region. We want to model ourselves around Comair of South Africa. They have been in existence for about 75 years.
“They have been profitable for 72 of their 75 years. They are such a world class airline that British Airways has put their livery on it. They operate franchise for British Airways.
“They have no ambition to go anywhere other than South Africa destinations. That is the type of model we are after,” Uriesi said.
The airline operates modern Bombardier CRJ-900 with 90-passenger capacity. Currently it has three aircraft in its fleet while the fourth aircraft would be added in August.
“We are going to have the biggest CRJ900 on the continent. The fourth one will come in in August. Against numbers, the fifth aeroplane comes in the first quarter 2020.
“But if the numbers are achieved before then, then we can bring it forward. It is going to be organic expansion against the numbers over the next three years. There are indications that it is going to be faster than slower,” Uriesi said.
In choosing CRJ 900, Uriesi said the management of the airline did a very robust assessment of the need and what is the right equipment for the need, considering the fact that domestic flight time from one destination to another is about one hour.
“We looked at the Boeing B737 while considering the aircraft type we want to use. We also looked at the economics of the operations of the Embraer and the Bombardier CRJ900 and eventually we opted for the CRJ.
“The pros were more than the cons. Investing in more modern aeroplanes means that we have a longer period of more reliable services and in terms of business plans, that is much better for us. Besides, the equipment is the right one for this route structure,” he added.
Uriesi, said that Ibom Air is privately run airline although owned by the Akwa Ibom state government, adding that the management of the domestic carrier has invested heavily on maintenance.
He disclosed that the airline had sent 11 young persons with Masters degree for training for the Bombardier course on the CRJ900. The newly train personnel would be under the tutelage and guidance of one of the most experienced aircraft engineers in the country, Lookman Animashaun, he added.
“We will have the expertise. We have already invested heavily on it. We have currently the capacity to manage and maintain the fleet until the time when these guys are ready to take over from the foreign ones”, he added.
He commended the government of Akwa Ibom state for setting up the airline, saying it was part of the big picture that the state has by first building state-of-the art aircraft maintenance facility (MRO), construction of an airport and now the setting up of an airline.
The intention, he said, was to make Akwa Ibom destination of choice for Nigerians and those visiting Nigeria, stressing that the airline was a key step in firming that tripod and developing tourism in the state.
“Now that we have the airline, the MRO will very soon become established properly. The airline is designed to be very well run and it is not a government parastatal. The state has invested in an airline as professional as to run it like a private company in which the state is absolutely not involved. It is a robust business plan,” Uriesi added.