Ibom Air, a commercial airline owned by the Akwa Ibom government, launched its maiden flight on Friday.
A handful of enthusiastic indigenes of the state, led by the deputy governor, Moses Ekpo, gathered at the Victor Attah International Airport, Uyo, as early as 8 a.m for a brief ceremony to herald the “historic” flight.
The people stood by to watch, clap, and shout happily as the flight, a Bombardier CRJ 900 series with registration number 5N-BWM, took off by 12 p.m and hit the blue Uyo sky for the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.
Thirty minutes after, a second flight took off for Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
The airline has three aircraft, and doing only two routes – Uyo-Lagos and Uyo-Abuja – for now.
“Today’s occasion is a watershed moment for us as a people,” the Akwa Ibom governor, Udom Emmanuel, said at the airport ceremony before the inaugural flight.
“Never in the history of this nation or indeed anywhere else in Africa that I can recall, has a state government gone into airline operations.
“Akwa Ibom state is, therefore, the first to achieve this, and we should all collectively give ourselves a pat on the back.”
Mr Emmanuel’s address was presented by the deputy governor, Mr Ekpo.
The governor said the takeoff of Ibom Air was a testimony to his administration’s vision for “rapid industrialization” of the state.
“Investors will continue to flock into our state, given the ease of traveling the launch of this airline will engender, the peace we enjoy and the hospitality of our people. “We are all winners in this!” the governor said.
Mr Emmanuel chided opposition politicians in the state for trying to cast doubt over the airline.
“It is not everything about us that should be coloured by, or be seen through the prism of politics. We should learn to separate development from politics.
“Ibom Air is a huge achievement for 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, rather you will be greeted and be told ‘welcome on board’ as a proud son or daughter of Akwa Ibom State.
“Sponsoring articles in the newspapers aimed at dismissing the great works we have done such as this, or telling the world, Ibom Air will never become a reality is highly unfortunate and sad. “We are better than this!” he said.
A former commissioner for information in the state, Charles Udoh, was among the passengers in the Uyo-Lagos flight.
Mr Udoh told PREMIUM TIMES it was a smooth and exciting 45-minute flight, with the passengers chatting among themselves about the significance of Ibom Air and its potential to lift the Akwa Ibom economy.
“It wasn’t anything that I didn’t expect. If you look at the aviation state in Nigeria today, Ibom Air has the youngest fleet of aircraft in the Nigerian airspace, we are looking at aircraft that are just six years old.
“I am particularly excited because I have followed the progress from day one and see it come to fruition.”
When the flight arrived Lagos, two fire trucks drove to the airport tarmac to spray water on the body of the aircraft to symbolically welcome it to the airport, Mr Udoh recounted.
Officials of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) were on ground to welcome the flight and its passengers, he said.
The entry of Ibom Air into Nigeria’s troubled air transportation sector is coming about eight months after the federal government suspended its plan to float a new national carrier, Nigeria Air.
The former commissioner, Mr Udoh, spoke of the Akwa Ibom government’s resolve to sustain the airline.
“We are saying, if the Ethiopian (Airline) could succeed, then we could succeed as a people,” he said.