…PROVIDES FIRST COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS AT THE NEW UYO AIRPORT
Arik appears relentless in spreading its wings to as many domestic destinations as possible. Akwa Ibom state’s pride in opening its new airport near Uyo could not have come at a better time when Arik has demonstrated a willingness to develop new routes to Nigeria’s hinterland. For Arik and a few other daring airlines, this implies running at an initial loss while keeping in mind the long-term benefits of cementing the airline’s presence in various points around the country. It is not clear whether the Akwa Ibom State Government is subsidizing Arik’s flights (It is not uncommon in Nigeria for State Governments to buy blocks of seats on flights to their respective airports. This, they argue, is a means to encourage airlines to develop routes and hence contribute to regional economic development).
After a long and turbulent project history, the new Akwa Ibom International Airport (AKIA) received its first scheduled flights on 2 December 2009 when Arik Air launched daily flights to Abuja and Lagos, both operated by the Boeing 737 Next Generation aircraft. Equipped with a CAT II landing facility, one of Africa’s longest runways (3600 M) and able to accommodate the new Airport A380 double-decker, the new Akwa Ibom International Airport (AKIA) is the primary tool devised by the state to ‘create hub of economic activities in and around the airport, and greatly enhance the air cargo transport needs of the regional market.’
The state is mainly referring initially to a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) center which is currently under construction and which it intends to operate under a PPP arrangement (Public-Private Partnership). The facility, the first of its kind in Nigeria and able to service two Boeing 747 Jumbos simultaneously, is planning to provide A, B, C and D checks to airlines’ fleet of aircraft and is expected to be ready by September 2010.
What remains to be seen, however, is which private sector company operates the MRO facility. Arik Air has already announced its intent to build a maintenance superhangar but its location remains unclear. Also, it remains to be seen whether the new flights to AKIA will affect Arik’s traffic figures out of Calabar’s Margaret Ekpo International Airport, which is roughly 50 Kms away. Meanwhile, Arik’s flight schedules to Uyo are well timed to connect passengers smoothly in Lagos and Abuja to onward destinations such as New York, Dakar and Johannesburg.
Gas production is expected to provide a crucial engine for economic growth in the Akwa Ibom/Cross River region, and therefore Arik is likely to benefit as passenger numbers and cargo uplift relating to the Oil and Gas industry increase.