The Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, recently interacted with reporters after touring ongoing cargo airport at Umuleri, Anambra State. He weighed the potentials of the airport, saying contrary to the views that President Muhammadu Buhari is ill-disposed to the people of South-east, the administration has indeed helped his business in so many way. Olaoluwakitan Babatunde was there
Governor Wille Obiano is putting together this massive cargo airport project at Umuleri. You have visited that site. What is your impression?
All this while, sitting in Lagos, I was hearing about Anambra State Airport project. The State Government had previously called on me to come and see the place, and I hadn’t been there. But yesterday I was privileged to visit the Airport. I felt proud to be called an Anambra son. Honestly, I never knew that level of work had been put in there. The runway is almost ready. And it is a lot of work because of the topography of the place and the nature of the soil. But they are doing a lot.
Every infrastructure that will make an airport of international standard is there. They are doing everything; taking care of all those complains we used to have in Nigeria hitherto. There are plans to do runway lightings of the highest grade. There are plans to install the instrument landing system that will be top notch, so that pilots can come in and land blindly even at zero visibility. So, and these are what we are yearning for.
That Airport, to the best of my knowledge, and by God’s grace, if everything pulls through the way they are planning it and the way they are going, it might end up being the best airport in the entire African region; not just Nigeria, because what I saw; everything has been provided for. There are places for cargo. There are places for passengers; everything. And the spacing gives room for more development. And that is what you need in an airport. The runway is one of the longest in Africa; 3.7km. That is the runway that can land 777 (aircraft), Airbus380 and others.
As a big player in the industry, tell us the value chain benefits for Anambra State, South-east?
Let me say something: when you go to a place like United States, for instance, you will see airports dotted all over the place. You see, aviation is catalyst for economic development, and until we begin to realize that it is not elitist, then we will never have it going well with us. It is a catalyst for economic development.
If that Airport comes on stream, tens of thousands of jobs will be created.
And I know the Igbo spirit of the people, the Anambra man, in doing business.
They will want to fly to China from there. They will want to go to every part of the world from there. It will help Nigeria, not just the South East. It will help the entire country because of the industry of the people. People should not be scared to allow development go to other places. And I thank God for President Muhammadu Buhari. It is very untrue that he does not like the Igbos. Without me being a member of his party or any party, I am a beneficiary of his support for indigenous businesses, but people don’t know. People believe what they read out there. The Federal Government, President Buhari, through his Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, has given me China, London, Portugal destinations and the entire Europe.
I am an Igbo man; he has even given me Jedda. I am not a Muslim, but they have given me Jedda. They have given me U.S., India, and etcetera. So, the government has given me about twenty designations to fly to. I am Igbo man. It is not true that President Buhari doesn’t like Igbos. The President wants equal economic development for every part. And this President, for sure, I will tell you categorically that when the time comes, he will give his assent to this Airport to be a full blown international airport.
What special use will Air Peace put the Anambra Airport to?
I was impatient with governor Obiano. I asked him right there, where is my space? Because, to be honest with you, I want to be able to build a maintenance hanger for aircraft coming from all over the world. If they showed me the space, Air Peace can come and do it. So, I am ready to start building the maintenance hanger so that by the time the Airport is being opened, it will be ready.
That’s additional jobs.
Yes, thousands of jobs. It will create aircraft engineers from this place, and all over the country because you know me, I don’t believe in all these sectionalism and ethnic talks. I employ people all over the place. Air Peace is a melting pot of the entire country. Even my management is north, west, Igbo, etcetera. I am not doing it for anything, that is how God created me, and that is how I want to pay God back. When the Airport comes on stream, Air Peace is going to, by the grace of God, play a big role. On the day of opening, I have promised that I will do an air show that day. I will cause about five different aircrafts to land there. First of all, my private jet, and the five planes will line up, hover round the Airport vicinity one after another. When they want to land, my private jet will land first in that order, followed by my ERJ145-E2 jets—those ones that carry fifty to sixty passengers; that slim planes will follow in the order of their hugeness.
This is something for Nigerians to be proud of, not just Ndi Anambra?
O! yes, not just Ndi Anambra. It is for the entire country. I want to use Air Peace to attract businesses into this country. For example, I want to start flying from Kano-Niger Republic. Straight from Abuja to Kano to Niger Republic. And I will do Kano-Niger-Chad; all those sub-Saharan Africa, and bring them to Nigeria. I want to kick-start businesses again—Mali and co, they like going to Kano and so on. I want to create that buzz not just for Ndigbo. So, anything that benefits people from the north, I will do it. The one that benefits people from the south, I will also do it. So this particular Airport in Anambra State—the heart of Igbo land, is an Airport that should have been built yesterday.