Turbulence is a regular happenstance in air travel which is a disturbance from a calmer state by various forces. The common source of turbulence in air travel are mountains, jet streams, and storms.
While several airlines are experiencing economic turbulence at the moment, one airline that has survived the COVID-19-induced economic turbulence is Ibom Air. Not only has the airline defied many naysayers who predicted doom for the carrier based on chronic pessimism. It has also remained consistent in efficient operations. Besides, it has demonstrated that public enterprises can be viable, deliver impact and add value to the people. While the same may not be possibly said for other ventures in similar terrain, the Udom Emmanuel model for Ibom Air is a master-class, worthy of commendation and adoption.
This is to the dismay of one Etim who claimed to be a banker and a journalist who, in an opinion article featured in Guardian.ng, titled: “The Dark Side of Ibom Air” wherein he claimed Ibom Air’s profitability is far from sight. In the article, Etim opined that “the margins are thin, especially in the emerging markets where revenues are earned in local currency. But expenses like maintenance, spares, lease amortization, insurance premiums and so on are incurred in foreign currency, typically the dollar. You have to deal with exchange rate risks, add fuel cost which usually takes over 85 to 90 per cent of operating expenses. Ibom Air has only three Bombardier aircraft (each carries a maximum of 80 passengers or thereabout) and charging an introductory fare of N15, 000 per passenger (about 40 per cent less than the competition).
Why do you think Okada Air, Nigeria Airways, Chanchangi Airlines, Bellview Airlines, Harka Airline, Triax Airlines, ADC Airlines, Al Barka Air, and so on are no more flying?”
It would seem like Etim stared into a crystal ball when just barely eight months into operations, a national lockdown was enforced in Nigeria as part of national and global efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19). This no doubt affected many businesses and the Nigerian aviation sector was not spared. So, when the Federal Government announced the total easing of the national lockdown which had left many businesses grappling for survival after two months for some similitude of normalcy, the country was plunged into another avoidable crisis which further shut down the economy for almost two(2) weeks and air travel and other businesses were once again disrupted.
In a bid to justify his pessimism about Ibom Air, Etim claimed the money used in setting up the airline could have been diversified into the execution of an agricultural project similar to the one executed by Edo State. In my opinion, Etim was obviously not in touch with realities on the ground in Akwa Ibom and that Ibom Air was indeed a necessary component of the far-sighted and visionary economic plan of Governor Udom. Indeed, the airline did not only justify federal allocation to the state since 2015, it has also proven that Akwa Ibom State was again experiencing forward-thinking leadership like it has from the days of Obong Attah. In fact, this was neither a bad business decision nor executive recklessness, but the piece that would position the entire region for investment and other economic opportunities.
Emerging from all the “negative effects” of the pandemic, Ibom Air did not cut down on its workforce, fleet, or routes. Rather it has undergone a massive expansion in its operations and commenced plans to expand its fleet. Yet, it has not lost its unrivalled position and reputation of being the most efficiently run and schedule-compliant airline. These undeniable achievements and standards are worthy of commendation, especially when you consider the prevailing quality of service delivery in the aviation industry in Nigeria.
Without a doubt, its ambition of an expansion drive across West Africa, Central Africa and maybe up to East Africa may just be within its reach as the carrier announced a recorded milestone of 500,000 passengers while maintaining a reputation of reliability, on-time departures and excellent service. This is a testament to its ever-full capacity on its 90-passenger plane at an average airfare of forty thousand naira (N40,000).
Although it is a widely acknowledged fact that the airline business is a very capital intensive venture with no instant massive return on investment (ROI), it is the sustenance of the business that gives the envisaged profit. Thus, with the resilience and success story recorded by Ibom Air in this short period, Akwa Ibom and indeed Ibomites can be said to have achieved an enviable feat. Governor Udom must be commended for the bold step of faith he took by investing in the aviation industry and making history in Nigeria as the first and only state to own an airline. He must also be commended for promoting and ensuring corporate governance with the appointment of an international auditor to conduct annual financial audits and a commitment to publish its books publicly. This is another move that would counter any possible allegation of lack of transparency in the management and finances of Ibom Air that the likes of Etim may seek to conceive.
Akwa Ibom’s “Ibom Air” is indeed worthy of emulation nationally and sub-nationally. Industry pundits say it is the only domestic airline in Nigeria that publishes its schedule, reliability and on-time performance statistics monthly.
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