By Bazee Uloh
The story of Ibom Air, the Akwa Ibom State-owned airline, might well present a cognitive dissonance situation to capitalists and their neo-capitalist counterparts, and thus challenge them to have a rethink about one of their ideological underpinnings, namely: government has no business in business.
This is because the airline has shown that theory to be faulty; and in fact, exposes it as mere fuel that powers the greed of bureaucrats that often asphyxiates success of government-run businesses.
Incidentally, unlike many politicians, whose stock-in-trade is to set and mark their own exams scripts, Ibom Air, in spite of being, on the surface, an elitist business, especially now, has proved that nothing prevents government from making business part of its business, and succeeding in it.
The company, said to be the first in the country with such ownership, and operating primarily from Victor AttahInternational Airport (VAIA), an airport owned and run by Akwa Ibom State, has proven itself a worthwhile venture.
Here is the point: a recent airline market study conducted by Phillips Consulting Limited (PCL), came out with a finding that Ibom Air and Air Peace are the country’s most preferred airlines. That is because in terms of market share, the duo controls 51.25% of Nigeria’s domestic flights.
The period covered by the study was February through July, 2022, and had the objective of better understanding, “Domestic air travelers’ perceptions, expectations, and experiences of both airline services and airport experiences.”
The study found Air Peace to have cornered 31.67% of domestic traffic, while Ibom Air, had 19.58%. There was no good third to the twosome. A total of 7, 815 responses were obtained by the firm from the sample used in the survey.
For an airline that came on stream on June 7, 2019, when a Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft took off from VAIA (IATA: QUO), Uyo, en route Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. This is phenomenal, given the fact that it has some eight older competitors in the industry. The trip was successful, and the airline has been in business ever since.
In May 2021, Ibom Air signed Nigeria’s first domestic codeshare agreement with Dana Air. That was said to be, “The first of its kind for domestic airlines in Nigeria”. That means that the two airlines could partner in delivering the same flight utilities identified severally, to their respective customers.
The story of this achievement says much about the conception, operation, and future of the airline. Indubitably, it takes good management and the commitment of the owners of the business to come this far; this well.
It is little wonder then that last year, the Akwa Ibom State Government added two less than two years’ old aircraft – Airbus A220 series – to the fleet of Ibom Airline. Airbuses are bigger and could take between 120 and 160 passengers at a time.
There are seven aircraft on the fleet of the airline, which has now expanded its flight routes, and with the acquisition of the airbuses, the airline might well be warming up to go regional.
In any case, the Bayelsa State Government has opened discussions with Akwa Ibom on the use of Ibom Air to start commercial flights at the Bayelsa State International Airport.
Addedly, The Gambian government recently contacted the Akwa Ibom State government over the possibility of Ibom Air flying to Gambia and other West African countries.
Perhaps, this prospect of the airline going regional informed the statement by Gov Udom Emmanuel, while receiving the airbuses. He said, “Today marks a major milestone in the history of aviation development, not only for Akwa Ibom State, but in [sic] this country.
“Never in the history of this nation, has a state established and owned a successful business airline; never in the whole continent of Africa.”
Not even his harshest critics might dismiss that as a rodomontade. Emmanuel has often said that he is a businessman.
However, caution must be raised, that no success is a one-off experience. It is a journey that runs on in a thesis-antithesis-synthesis chain.
The stories of failed government industries in the state are well known. Even the best raconteur cannot convince any discerning mind otherwise. Such stories must not be told of Ibom Air.
Although most Akwa Ibomites would not fly it for lack of the means to do so; more so now; yet, that venture has provided jobs both ‘on’ and ‘off air’ for our people. It must, therefore, be nurtured to endure. It is the state’s nonpareil venture. With the good news of additional two A320 announced by Governor Emmanuel, to bring the tally of aircraft to nine, Ibom Air is indeed, our poster business.