State News: Air Traffic Booms at Akwa Ibom Airport
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Air Traffic Booms at Akwa Ibom Airport
30 Jun 2011: Aniekan Umanah

"The vision and drive of Governor Godswill Akpabio in completing the Ibom Airport Project has paid off as citizens, residents and visitors to Akwa Ibom and neighboring States of Cross River and Abia utilize the airport for their travel needs."

When John F. Kennedy, the then president of the United States of America was dedicating the Chicago O’Hara Airport on 23rd March, 1963, he said, “There is no other airport in the world which serves so many people and so many airplanes. This is an extraordinary airport. It could be classed as one of the wonders of the modern world.”

Little did Kennedy know that he was also prophesying an airport that was to come 46 years after – the Akwa Ibom International Airport, Uyo whose inaugural flight was on 23rd September, 2009! Could this the reason the two airports have a common day in their history- 23rd? And it was on this same day in 1987 that Akwa Ibom State was created. Oh, what a beautiful coincidence!

Courtesy of the leading light, Governor Godswill Akpabio’s administration, Akwa Ibom International Airport, in less than two years of its existence, has proven that it is old enough for wisdom, and young enough for enterprise. It has taken Akwa Ibom State to the highest rung of economic ladder; the top of the totem pole where the air is perfumed and rarefied and life is an idyllic replication of the heavens and magic economies hitherto the exclusives of the Frankfurts, Romes, Athens, Zurichs and the Copenhagens.

Today, the airport has not only placed Akwa Ibom on the international aviation map, it has made the state a vibrant and pulsating economy teemed with the life of living with investors and tourists.

A visit to the airport reveals that it has been playing host to an unprecedented number of passengers since the commencement of commercial operations there, and of recent, owing to maintenance currently going on at the Margaret Ekpo International Airport in Calabar, and the fact that most air travelers to this part of Nigeria prefer the world’s newest airport, passenger traffic has skyrocketed with its resultant booming revenue generation. But in the view of Austin Thomas, a businessman and regular user of the airport, ”the vision of Governor Akpabio in seeing to the realization of this project has saved us all the harrowing experience of traveling several hours to either Port Harcourt or Override for the purpose of making a less than an hour trip to Lagos or Abuja.”

The chart and table showing the year on year comparison of passenger traffic and total revenue on passenger volume from the date of its inaugural flight till date made available by the airport authorities, show an outstanding growth in commercial activities at the airport.

For instance, in 2011, just between January and April, a total of 57,198 air passengers used the Akwa Ibom International Airport. March had the highest volume with 15,715 while January, February and April followed with 15,292; 13,899 and 12,292 passengers respectively. May, may break this record.

And in 2010, a total of 138,699 passengers either touched down at or took off from the airport. In December alone, about 16,395 used the airport. There were also great passenger flows in August and September with 15,393 and 15,331 passengers for each. They were closely followed by the November and October traffic with13,832 and 13,553 passengers respectively.

The chart also showed that the highest volume of the travelers in 2010 came from the Lagos-Uyo and Uyo-Lagos routes with 5,991 and 5,041 passengers. Abuja-Uyo had 3,388 while Uyo-Abuja had 2,515 air travelers who used the Akwa Ibom International Airport. As the airport becomes the hub of activities, it goes with a commensurate revenue spinning for the airport and Akwa Ibom State at large.

Indeed, Akwa Ibom International Airport now has a good share of Nigeria’s air travelers with instant soft spoken aircrafts of reputable world class airlines like DANA, Aero, Arik among others renowned for reliability. Their timely daily flight schedules tell the stories of the organizations better.

Still, Ibom Airport’s greatest milestone is that it had since commenced its international flight services with the first direct lifting of Christian pilgrims to the Ben Gurion International Airport in far away Tel Aviv, Israel on last year’s Christian pilgrimage to Israel.

The story of Akwa Ibom International Airport is that of a whiff of fresh air authored by the transparent honesty of the administration of Governor Akpabio who delivered the project in less than a year after its contract was re-awarded to Alcon and Gitto in February, 2009. It was in September same year that it witnessed its inaugural flight. Listen to the story.

Conceived in 2001, the presidential approval for the airport as a national hanger was given in 2004. Thereafter, the then administration signed a contract with Dyncorp International LLC who was later to abandon it in 2008, necessitating there-award of the project to Alcon and Gitto.

Governor Akpabio had, in 2007 constituted the airport Implementation Committee headed by Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (rtd). The committee ensured the continuation of construction works at the airport and development of airport infrastructure which technical evaluation placed at 10% completion.

The committee thought it achievable to divide its implementation task in two phases. While emergency and interim components of the airport development and facilities such as 3,600m runway, maintenance, repairs and overhaul (MRO) to serve the critical aircraft: Boeing 747-400, aircraft rescue and fire fighting facility, air traffic control tower, technical and administrative building, aviation fuel farm and emergency operating centre (clinic) constituted the first phase, cargo terminal with associated apron, second parallel runway, passengers terminal building, aviation training college and other ancillary facilities made up the second phase.

Today, to the credit of the Akpabio administration, most of these facilities have been achieved for the airport.

The icing on the cake, perhaps, is that government and aviation regulatory agencies like Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA); Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA); Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN); Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) who have made several independent and joint inspection visits to the airport in the last two years, have expressed high satisfaction on the facilities on ground, endorsing the project as meeting the ICAO recommended standard, including the minister of aviation. The living dream, you will agree, is alive!

Akwa Ibom International Airport has one of the best runways for international flights where large-bodied aircrafts can land directly. The maintenance, repairs and overhaul, MRO facility will be the first of such in Nigeria and even West Africa. Repairing aircrafts and doing C checks and A checks in Uyo will be a vast financial spinner for Akwa Ibom and Nigeria at large. And with a runway that any seize of aircraft can touch down, Akwa Ibom is flying higher.

The airport has rightly and safely flown Akwa Ibom to the other side of the world - where opportunities also flourish. The delight, the wonder and intoxication of this diagonal movement upwards, is more historic than dramatic. Akwa Ibom has spread its wings, tobogganing in curves and spirals through the sky. The only place to go from the bottom of the valley, they say, is upwards. The flight has taken off. The job has been done!

And the beauty of it all, inaugural flight of 23rd September, 2009 shall remain something to remember. French Professor Jacques Alexandre Cesare Charles’ excitement during his first free flight in a manned hydrogen balloon on December 1, 1783 that, “All was glorious- a cloudless sky above, a most delicious view around. How great is our good fortune!” rightly captures the mood of Akwa Ibom on that unforgettable day. It was a day Governor Akpabio became an ordinary citizen. He walked the road with his people.

The road from Uyo was choked by a madding crowd. People, vehicles, motorbikes and perhaps every living creature craved to be part of history. They thronged the old Oron Road. Their destination was the airport and their desire was to catch a glimpse of the hallow bird as it touched down Akwa Ibom soil. How great, indeed, is their fortune as was signaled by that flight of wings of ideas.

For those on board and a sea of others on ground to welcome the Boeing 737-800 series aircraft as it touched down, the experience was the same. The prospects of that event defied class. In fact, it was tagged: The Unity Flight of Akwa Ibom and you cannot fault that.

Apart from the significance of the date to the history of the state, it showed evidently that the essence of the creation of Akwa Ibom was achieved, and it came with a visible air of the resurgence of the pride of a people.

The pleasant bolt from the blue of that day made many to catch cold in the sun like what happened in Nairobi on 4th February, 1977 during the inaugural flight of Kenya Airways from London to Nairobi after the death of East Africa Airways. Akwa Ibom people were drenched in happiness.

There are a thousand and one other reasons that Akwa Ibom people give for this endless joy of theirs on the airport. It has opened to them, a vast window of opportunities; at the airport environment, around Uyo and even within the entire state. Their businesses thrive in different colours – for transporters, hoteliers, traders, name it. And they ascribe all gratitude to their captain-at-work and pilot-in-chief, Governor Akpabio.

The employment generation benefit of the project is even more gargantuan. Thousands of Akwa Ibom indigenes have been employed by the airport in different departments, with majority of them sent for oversees training to function effectively in the aviation industry.

The airport, evidently, is a great blessing to the people. It has dropped honey in their cup. A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall. Of course, only honey is acceptable for a people living in the land filled with milk and honey.

This is in line with the Akpabio’s “Service first, self last” art of leadership; a leadership rich in the moral fiber that has taken Akwa Ibom up the long delirious burning blue; the high un-trespassed sanctity of space, where the people God named after Himself put out their hands and touched the face of God. And things have not remained the same again!

The airport project is one of the Akpabio administration’s top shelf achievements during his first term that made Akwa Ibom people to collectively ensure the engine failure of the cones of confusion.

The united passengers of Akwa Ibom, all occupying first class seats, are delighting themselves in the goodies and expatriate of the ICAO-certified all time captain of development, Chief Akpabio, who is piloting with style, professional proficiency and charismatic mien. What a marvelous journey!

There was an age-long billboard in Accra, Ghana with the inscription, “Don’t just stand there and stare. Get involved.” In Accra we stand. In that Accra witty admonition we stand in Akwa Ibom today. Wouldn’t you rather come inside?

So, each time you want to board any flight to Akwa Ibom International Airport and the hostess tells you welcome, she really means it. That is beyond the traditional treatment of an African king. She simply means that you are coming to a state with golden opportunities and economic potentials where government is never tired in making it a destination of choice, no more a pedestrian state. The airport you are alighting now is not in New York. You are in New Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State where God is doing His will for a people he named after Himself. You are right inside the Akwa Ibom International Airport. There could not be a better definition of John Kennedy’s extraordinary airport than this. Welcome on board. Welcome to Akwa Ibom.

Honourable Aniekan Umanah is the immediate past Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information

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