It was a clement morning in the coastal capital city of Calabar, the Governor was listening with fascinated attention when Captain Olusina Akinsete proclaimed that “the aircraft is the safest machine ever created by man,” with a religious assurance before the dignified audience seated inside the executive chambers.
These cardinal words hold the assurance that convince most air travelers all over the world. Capt. Akinsete, a United Nations test pilot made this immortal statement in Calabar when Governor Ben Ayade conceived Cali Air two years ago.
Interestingly for safety reasons, commercial aircrafts are design to fly with one engine or land safely without engine. This has been confirmed by experts. “Just Glide” Lim Khoy Hing noted.
Steadily yet quietly, Akwa Ibom State under Governor Emmanuel Udom nursed Ibom Air since 2016. On 20th February 2019, Nigerian air travelers were amazed with Gov Emmanuel launching of IBOM AIR. Last Wednesday, the State owned airline had delivery of a third aircraft, therefore meeting statutory minimum number of aircraft required by Air authority to commence commercial flight operation.
Although celebrated as bold, novel and prestigious stride, some pick holes on the airline investment as a scam or means of picking political points.
Reacting to the Ibom Air idea, Professor of Financial Economics, Prof. Leo Ukpong said, “Politically, it might help in winning election. However, from an economic perspective, I doubt it (making the glamour last). Akwa Ibom State economy is predominantly civil service driven. To experience an economic wide gain from this investment, an active private based economy is needed.”
Safety is everyone’s concern. Be it on land or in the air. The human instinct requires safety answers to survive. Like travelers who are Aviophobic (afraid of flying), Capt. Olusina Akinsete said handlers must understand the safety test. If aircrafts are safest why do plane crash? The common answer is human error or human factor!
The human factor confronts most black Africans as a demon, even in their business ventures, especially when their governments are involved. After a courageous stride and magnificent ceremony to launch an air fleet of three modern Bombardier jets for commercial purposes, another safety question remains. Can Akwa Ibom State government be good managers of airlines?
“Yes! The state government can succeed if the employ the required expertise and following the regulations,” Alice Sedo said. Alice is an Air Quality Manager formerly with Glory Airline and currently in Abuja. She assured government could manage but with conditions. Alice is not alone in this believe that Akwa Ibom state government can effectively operate an airline.
“It is not every government that is bad mangers, British Airways is owned by government but they have been succeeding. It is not every government that is a bad manager, it depends on who are the movers. Aviation business is capital intensive, if you do not get the right technocrats to do it, you will be making costly mistakes,” Engr. Dr. Yakubu Dazhia, MD and CEO, Ferry Aviation Dev. Services also reiterated.
Nevertheless, Alex Van Elk, former Camair Co, Cameroon airline and Manyatta Engineering boss gave different opinion.
“One thing is vitally important, the government although they are technical owners of airline, they should not involve in the management. You should leave the operation of the airline to professional.”
Prof. Ukpong advised against such idea.
“Based on Nigerian past records, airlines managed by government has never survived. I believe government corruption will negate its economic longevity.”
From the foregoings, it looks clear that the economic considerations and safety of airlines depends too on humans to survive.
Other factors of considerations to save Ibom Air glamour interestingly depends on the safety that is offered in multitude of advice.
Routes and Auditing
Another factor was the airline network or routes. Gov Udom Emmanuel had already worked out the airline routes to be Uyo–Lagos–Abuja. He probably chose this network of routes through his consultants and to fit his long term economic dream including relocation of ExxonMobil head office in Nigeria to Akwa Ibom State.
Some opinions for growing Ibom Air glamour is said to be creation of more route within the West African region with our fleet.
In his view, Ferry Air boss, Engr. Dr. Yakubu Dazhia said, “The Bombardier is a good aircraft but there is a policy in aviation. You cannot start airline today and start flying West African, you have to be tested on the domestic routes first. You have to fly within a certain time and experience before Civil Aviation will authorize you to fly out of the country. It took Air Peace two years for the government to start approving them to fly out. These things are regulated ”
Again, Mr. Alex advised that “a good network of routes, web based ticket sales system is needful and a solid revenue accounting should be done to keep Ibom Air celebrations lasting. There is a solid market in Nigerian and the region, but choosing the network can drain finance and kill the airline.”
Travel Culture and Aircraft Specification
Most Nigerians travel heavy, so how competent is Ibom Airline jets?
The bombardier CRJ 900 aircrafts are good for regional operations but Nigerians passengers most times carry heavy cargo especially traders, so I would recommend for next time Boeing 737-700, 800 or 900. No doubt the Bombardier is cheaper to maintain.
“Some people think of the monetary aspect first without planning, the choice of the aircraft is important. You need to know your route, what aircraft is best for that route because the aircraft that fly well in Canada will not perform the same way in Nigeria because of the weather. Everybody rush to buy the same machine, the aircraft flying Lagos to Port Harcourt is not the same thing flying Kano and Maiduguri because the temperature is not the same. There are some aircraft flying Lagos – Port Harcourt you take it in very hot weather like Maiduguri and it will not even start. All these are considered before a start. Aviation is too technical”, Dazhia who is the facility manager, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN said.
IBOM AIR Airline Maintenance and MRO
According to Dazhia, maintenance culture in aviation is unique, “Everyday an aircraft is aging whether you fly it or not. That is why there is no show room all over the world where they manufacture aircraft and keep like cars. Every aircraft manufactured is by order from the manufacturer. From the day aircraft is released into market the life will start counting.”
To maintain Ibom Air fleets in Uyo would be a lofty idea but Alex Elk warned that equipping the MRO is cost intensive project as well and care be taken that the MRO is not furnished with facilities to maintain Bombardier CRJ 900s only.
“CRJ 900 are quite few flying West African skies. MRO should be capable of maintaining Boeing, Airbus etc for maximizing profit.”
A Glamorous Future
According to Prof. Ukpong, despite government poor track records in management, with discipline reaching aviation El Dorado is possible.
“Hopefully, with Ibom Air, jobs will be created for Akwa Ibom citizens. Some of the areas expected to directly benefit should be Aero engineering and maintenance — technicians, food and beverages. Unfortunately, this benefits will be limited to the airline, no Akwa Ibom State broad based.
Nevertheless if the government is prudent and disciplined enough to allow professionals to manage it while they encourage investments, that will quickly grow the economy, then we have a chance to celebrate long term return on this investment,” Prof. Ukpong said.