Akwa Ibom Airport as Vehicle for Economic Growth

Emmanuel Udom

By Amos Akpan

The airport in Uyo, known as Victor Attah International Airport has been superintended by three governors in fifteen years now.

The airport seems to be continuously experimenting with business development strategies.
An airport with that magnitude of investment should be a platform for economic growth in Akwa Ibom state. As it stands today, the airport cannot be identified with a specific business module, and we cannot point to the direction it is growing in the aviation industry.

That airport is not a hub for passengers and cargo. It is not a maintenance and repair station because there is no Fixed Based Operation (FBO) or a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility at the airport.

The airport was conceived, designed, and the construction initiated by the administration of Obong Victor Attah as a maintenance, repair and overhaul center for aircraft. Chief Godswill Akpabio’s administration completed the runway, the control tower, and built the passenger lounge. He made sure the airport was opened for domestic flights and he operated pilgrimage flights to Jerusalem from there. Akpabio could not follow through to deliver on Obong Attah’s maintenance facility concept. He needed to equip the hangar, secure patent from established MRO, linked partnership with aircraft manufacturer, and train would be maintenance personnel. Currently governor Emmanuel Udom is establishing a domestic airline based in Uyo airport. This means we have witnessed three different directions.

An FBO – Fixed Base Operator is a mini airport within an airport. FBO provides aeronautical services to private aircraft operators. They make air travel easy and comfortable for owners and passengers.

Their services include fueling, hangaring, tie down and parking, light maintenance, passenger processing, flight clearances, planning and dispatch.

An MRO – Maintenance Repair OrganiSation – a facility certified by the state or the regional aviation authority. A certified MRO is called approved maintenance organisation (AMO). The approval conveys authority on the facility to carry out maintenance categorised as A, B, C, and D, depending on the capacity demonstrated by the organisation during the certification process.
An example is the Aero Contractor AMO which is certified by NCAA to perform up to category C maintenance on B737-300/500.

The airport in Uyo has the framework for MRO but it has to move beyond where it is now.
The reality is that the Uyo airport is not generating sufficient revenue to cover its maintenance and operational cost. Currently, the average monthly revenue to the Uyo airport is between N28 million and N30 million; while the monthly recurrent expenses is between N32 million to N34 million. This excludes calendar maintenance, recalibration, retraining, equipment overhaul and upgrades. The airport was not intended to be subsidised with funds from the state government’s purse after twelve years into commercial operations.

As wear and tear sets in, the maintenance and operational cost will be higher.

Akwa Ibom state government needs to reposition for aggressive drive to attract partnership from private investors.

The first hurdle in this concern will be that the private investors need to have confidence in the process. They need to be assured that successive administrations of the state government will honour the existing private public partnership agreement. This issue of confidence beyond current regime causes apprehension in the decision making process of private investors. When the government is able to cross this hurdle, they should re engineer the business strategy by carving out portfolios that will attract the interest of various investors.

The location of the airport at the trigger of the Bight of Benin gives it the geographic position advantage in the aviation sector. For instance, they could approach ExxonMobil in Eket to establish aviation fuel tanks with sufficient capacity to serve intercontinental flights. They should make Uyo airport the preferred refueling tech stop station. Lots of flights crossing the African continent currently refuel in Accra, Dakar, Benghazi, Nairobi. Uyo airport should be preferred refueling station if fuel is available at same price.

They could make Uyo airport the preferred station for air cargo coming into southeastern Nigeria. To make it viable, provide storage and packaging for export of our organic farm produce like pineapples, mango, tomatoes, banana, and vegetables. These will form return cargo for the freighter instead of returning empty.

Partner with FEDEX/REDSTAR, DHL, IMNL to make Uyo airport their redistribution center for Bight of Benin axis inclusive of Libreville, Bata, Malabo, Doula, Brazzaville, Sao Tome.

The current move to establish Ibom Air is plausible. But lots of clarifications would be good: what is the level of government’s involvement? What is the ownership structure? What the personnel managing the airline? Their choice of aircraft seems appropriate, but what is the rationale to bring them in on foreign register? The aircraft are currently parked incurring expenses in Uyo.

Before they can operate schedule passenger flights, they will be deregistered, re registered, certified airworthy, even as the airline pursues license and certification to operate with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

Like our Governor said, let us use what we have in the aviation sector to better our state’s economy. The elections are over; let’s get involved in developmental issues.

Akpan, who is the lead consultant with ETIMFRI group, wrote in from Lagos