Aviation history is being re-written in the South-East region of the country as international flights commence at Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu. SULAIMON OLANREWAJU reports.
The commencement of commercial flights tomorrow by the Ethiopian Airlines at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, will put an end to the over five decades of waiting by the people of the South-East for international flights in and out of the region.
The domestic terminal of the airport was recently remodelled by the Ministry of Aviation with the provision of modern equipment which has made it possible for the terminal to handle international flights while the international terminal is being constructed. The lure for Ethiopian Airlines to be the first to add the airport to its international routes must have been the world class facilities available in the airport.
Announcing the intention of his company to commence operations in Enugu, during an interview with journalists, Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive, Mr Tewolde Gebremariam, said “We are ready and we are proud to add Enugu in Nigeria to our wide global network. The addition of Enugu to our network is a continuation of our commitment to provide the best possible connectivity options to passengers travelling between Africa and the rest of the world.”
Gebremariam added that “Passengers from the three gateways in Nigeria – Lagos, Abuja and Enugu now have the opportunity to fly to destinations throughout the
Ethiopian Airlines network.”
The Ministry of Aviation is as thrilled as the airline by the commencement of international flights at the airport.
In a statement about the development, General Manager, Corporate Communication, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Yakubu Dati, noted that “The operation of Ethiopian Airlines into Enugu will be the satisfaction of an enduring call from the people of the South-East who have for many years clamoured for an international airport for the zone, which they believe will reinforce the resourcefulness of the people who are known for their entrepreneurship and trade.”
He added that the flight “marks the first international flight operation from the Akanu Ibiam International Airport since it was designated by the Federal Government as the only international airport in the South-East zone and as part of the aviation master plan of this administration, which gives every zone an opportunity to grow to its full potential in economic and social development.
“The Minister of Aviation has also confirmed that she has written a letter to the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, informing him about the historical flight which will arrive the Enugu Airport by 12.30 pm and depart by1:30 pm local time in the four times weekly operation from the Coal City, largely regarded as the capital of the South-East zone.
The statement added that “Henceforth businessmen and other travellers from Enugu, Aba, Abakaliki, Onitsha, Owerri, Umuahia and as far as Asaba and Benin will be saved the distress of travelling for hours to Lagos and Abuja to catch international flights, trips that are sometimes fraught with problems, including dangers on the road as they fight for time to catch their flights to international destinations.”
Already the South-East people are savouring the development and are full of praise for President Goodluck Jonathan and the Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, for making their dream of embarking on international flights sans the stress of first flying to Lagos or Abuja a reality.
According to them, opening up the region to international flights will also increase commercial and business activities in the region, adding that these would result in an improvement of its economy.
Probably as a test case for the readiness of the airport to welcome flights from every corner of the world, a private aircraft carrying a businessman, Chief Arthur Eze, touched down at the airport on Tuesday. The aircraft with registration number, No 5MPZE, from Senegal, landed at the airport at 3.20pm.
Addressing journalists after disembarking from the aircraft, Chief Eze said, “Thanks to the president, this is the first time this is happening to the people of the South-East. Other presidents before him came here and promised us an international airport, but it never came to be, but today we are happy that President Goodluck Jonathan has made this dream of our people come true.
“We are grateful to Jonathan that he is changing the lives of Igbo; we also commend the efforts of the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah. This is the greatest thing that has happened to our people.
“I am the greatest beneficiary. I flew from Europe to Senegal and from Senegal, I flew direct to this airport. The flight from Senegal to Enugu took us four hours, non-stop and we were flying at about 45, 000 feet above sea level. I am happy and grateful to God.
“Our people are businessmen and we travel a lot. This airport is a major boost to our businesses and you can be sure that a lot is going to improve in this zone.
“Before, I used to travel to Lagos, Port Harcourt, avoiding robbers on the road, to fly outside the country, but now, from my house here, I can fly to any part of the world. Jonathan is a wonderful human being; God created him to serve humanity.”
In a press statement Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, described the development as a “major milestone in the infrastructural renewal of the South-East and a monumental boost for both trade and direct foreign investment for the entire country.”
Ekweremadu, who lauded the airport transformation agenda of President Jonathan and the commitment of Princess Oduah to the same which has resulted in the history of aviation in the region being re-written, observed that “For many decades, the people of the South-East, the local and international business communities have waited seemingly endlessly for the commencement of international flight operations at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, and the people of the South-East will remain ever grateful to President Jonathan for the breakthrough.”
The story of the change that Akanu Ibiam International Airport has witnessed started in 2007 when the President Umaru Yar’ Adua’s administration decided to upgrade it to an international airport and commenced its remodelling. However, the remodelling exercise rose an octave when Princess Oduah assumed the leadership of the Aviation Ministry. This culminated in the commissioning of the domestic terminal of the airport by President Jonathan on May 13 this year. The president also laid the foundation stone for the construction of the international terminal during the event.
Speaking at the event Princess Oduah projected that by 2015 total domestic and international passenger movement in Nigeria would rise from the present 12 million to 16 million, hinging her projection on the provision of improved facilities at the airport.
The minister added that with commercial offerings at the airports, travellers would be increasing by at least 10 per cent annually.
According to the minister, “Nigeria’s aviation industry must take its rightful place in our national life. The industry must become pivotal to the socio-economic development of our country as it is supposed to be and as we proclaim in our vision, we will continue to do what it takes to deliver just such an industry to Nigerians.”
Princess Oduah has not spared any effort to ensure the improvement of the aviation industry since she took over the leadership of the ministry. This has resulted in the transformation of the terminals of five leading airports in the country. But that has not been all as the ministry has started the remodelling of all the 22 current terminals in FAAN network. She has also effected many other changes in the industry to the adulation of many stakeholders.
The promise of positive changes made by the minister when she got to the ministry is gradually becoming a reality.
- First International flight lands in Enugu airport (transformationwatch.com)
- History on the make as “First international flight takes off from Enugu August 24” (transformationwatch.com)
- Ethiopia Airlines begins international flights from Enugu airport (vanguardngr.com)