On Thursday 6th of June, 2019, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA issued Air Operator’s Certificate, AOC, to the newest airline in the industry that is Ibom Air.
The next day 7th of June, 2019, the airline took to the air with its Bombardier CRJ900 from the Uyo airport owned and operated by the Akwa Ibom State Government.
Ibom Air, is owned by the state government but to be operated and run by professionals as a private airline.
The Ibom Air CRJ900 aircraft painted white with the airline’s name in orange and green landed in Lagos Friday 7th at exactly 1.10pm and received by its Chief Operating Officer COO, Mr. George Uriesi, Head, Engineering, Engr. Luqmon Animashaun, airline staff, Management of the MM2 and other airport users.
In this interview, the COO of Ibom Air, Mr. George Uriesi speaks on its fleet expansion, choice of aircraft, strategic investments, and regional plans among others.
With respect to Akwa Ibom Government’s motivation to set up an airline, it’s part of a big picture vision that they have, they built an airport, they built an MRO, they, I call it the Tripod of strategic investments, airport, MRO and Airline. The intention is to make Akwa Ibom a destination of choice for Nigerians and people visiting Nigeria obviously, so the airline is a key step in firming that Tripod, because of the airline now, definitely the MRO will very soon become established properly.
The airline is designed to be a very run organization, so it is not a government parastatal, the state has invested in an airline and asked professionals to run like a private company in which the state is absolutely not involved. There is a robust business plan so the airline is being run like a private airline and because there is a gap in the industry welcomes a game changer and so, the airline would like to position itself as a game changer, providing a world class service, providing the three key things that are missing in the industry, the preposition is providing schedule reliability, on time departures and superior customer service. So first, Nigerians can plan against our schedules, second, we are leaving at 7 we are leaving at 7 and third is, superior customer service when you interact with us and we believe if this airline provides the Tripod of services to the passenger, the passenger will reward the airline with custom.
What routes will the airline fly, is it the usual Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and the type of aircraft to be used?
These routes will be included but we are starting with three routes, Uyo-Lagos, Uyo-Abuja and Lagos-Abuja but the first few weeks, we will be doing Uyo-Lagos-Abuja and when the aero planes have gotten accustom to flying around Nigeria, all the headaches and tummy aches have been cured with panadol and whatever and they are reliable and doing very well, we will deploy one on Lagos-Abuja route. We will be using CRJ900 aircraft for all our operations.
How many aircraft do you have? What are your fleet expansion programmes?
In terms of our business plan which is pretty robust, we will grow organically, we plan to be 10 aircraft operations in 3 years but its number driven so, the first 3 aero planes, we start the fleet with the first 3, the 4th one, CRJ900 joins in August, in fact we are going to have the largest CRJ900 fleet on the continent. The 4th one is the making, it will come in August, now against numbers, the 5th aero plane comes in the 5th quarter of 2020 but if the numbers are achieved before then, then we can bring it forward but its organic expansion against the numbers over the next 3 years indications that it is likely going to be faster than slower.
How did you come about the use of CRJ900, did you look at the market before settling for the CRJs?
We did a very, very robust assessment for the need and the right equipment for the need and off course we looked at the 737s obviously and Airbus counterpart the 390 and 320 and we looked the operating economics of the Embraer and the CRJs and eventually we opted for the CRJs, the pros where more than the cons in our view and the we traded off more people buy the older 737s and then they had to contend with dealing with those sorts of older aero planes issues mostly reliability in terms of maintenance, so investing in much newer, more modern aero planes means that we have a longer period of more reliable services and in terms of the business plan, that trades off more better for us, besides the equipment is the right equipment for this route structure.
Your start off is N15, 000, are you going to leave at that or you intend going gradual?
No, it’s a start off special after a couple of days, it will fall out and it is just the number of seats on each flight that goes for that.
Are you also considering regional operations?
Our vision is to be a world-class African regional airline, we don’t have any ambition for long haul at all, we will settle in the country and after a while, we will certainly go into the region. We want to model ourselves around ComAir of South Africa, they have been in existence for about 75 years, they have been profitable for 72 of those 75 years, they are such as world-class airline that British Airways have put their livery on it, they operate franchise of British Airways, they have no ambition of going anywhere rather than Southern Africa and that’s the kind of model and also the model is also the Emirates, Ethiopian model which is government owed but operating as private companies.
The MRO will no doubt help to save money for the airline since your aircraft will be maintained there; tell us more about the facility?
The MRO is a testament to the vision of the original envisioner which was governor Atta, the previous governor of Akwa Ibom, so it was actually built to top-notch world-class standard, so every time people come to assess it, they come and they go WOW, this thing is very, very modern it just that it wasn’t completed it still some way to complete it. Now with the airline, we have to maintain it, so now there is a huge opportunity now to finish it, we are discussing with many potential partners, we expect it to be up and running soon, definitely maintaining CRJ900, Boeing 737s because that’s the aircraft most people have in this part of the world.
Talking about partnership, you now have an airline with fleet commonality CRJs, do have in-house capacity or you intend to reach out to some companies abroad or you want to pull expertise and tools to achieve this?
Both, initially we had a foreign company that position people here to maintain but at the same time we have invested, we just sent 11 young engineers for the Bombardier course, CRJ900, they just graduated fresh last week and they are now on the line and very soon they will be under the tutelage of one of the most experienced engineering leaders in the country, engineer Animashaun, so we will have the expertise, we have already invested heavily in it giving them the Bombardier training, 11 young people but we have currently the capacity to manage and maintain the fleet until the time when the guys will be ready to take over from the foreigners.
Do you have enough spares?
We have a very nice spares arrange, we will be glad to show you what a world-class spares look like.