Tuesday 23 April 2013

Opinion Post: Akwa Ibom Int’l Airport: Providing Wings in a flying State


It is often said that the peacock is always proud of its feather and loses no time displaying it whenever opportunity beckons. This is presumably the summary of the story of the Akwa Ibom international airport.

When Governor Godswill Akpabio laid the foundation stone of the interim terminal building of Akwa Ibom International Airport (AKIA) in December 2007, not many people showed significant enthusiasm for the progress of development of the then newly started Airport. Akpabio’s promise to land a large body aircraft at the airport the following year was taken with a pinch of salt because the previous administration had failed to make any significant progress despite repeated assurances on the airport. 

To be candid, several other prime infrastructural projects before that time were witnessing very slow pace of implementation. And this situation substantially accounted for the inability of most government projects to be completed and inaugurated for public use before the coming of the Akpabio administration.

The actual construction on the building commenced in January,2008 and in September, 2009, not only was the interim terminal building completed but such other complementary facilities like the control tower ,Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Service (ARFFS) unit, communications room, the runway and internal road network among others in the Airport had also been completed. Before this time, and in June 2009 when several media editors and aviation correspondents visited the airport to see things for themselves, they were overheard whispering that the terminal building and the control tower can never be ready by September, 2009. Some of them even said that should a plane land in Uyo on September 23 that year, it will undoubtedly enter the Guinness record book.

All that is history, as an inaugural flight touched down on the tarmac of the Airport on 23rd September, 2009, the 22nd anniversary of the creation of the state. On that day an Arik Air, Boeing 737-900 Aircraft loaded with passengers was received into the facility with an unprecedented enthusiastic crowd of well meaning Nigerians, mostly Akwa Ibom indigenes flocked to the airport to keep a date with destiny.

Knowing too well that the responsibility of implementing his vision in the aviation sector was enormous, Chief Akpabio bestowed the task of seeing this vision through , on the shoulders of a humble and dynamic Austin Mbeh, a lawyer and grassroot politician. Those who who know Barr Mbeh, can always vouch that he is one who is committed to quality service delivery and hates mediocrity with passion. At all times Mbeh had discharged his assignments diligently. As publicity secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party,PDP in Akwa Ibom State, and was considered a great pillar behind the success of the Uwem Ita Etuk-led executive. At the time of his appointment as commissioner in the State Executive Council, he was overwhelmingly being sought after by Ikot Ekpene federal constituency to represent the constituency in the green chambers of the national assembly. His first port of call was the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and Barr Mbeh brought life into the ministry, including organizing the national festival of Arts and Culture, NAFEST.

Since his appointment as superintendent, the airport has not witnessed any lull in breaking new grounds and hitting fresh milestones. Apart from securing all the necessary approvals from the myriad of aviation regulatory and other oversight bodies, the Airport has retained a sustained partnership with reputable Airlines who are operating scheduled passenger services into it. These are beside frequent corporate and chartered operations that are run by entities such as Julius Berger, Exxon Mobil, Banks and other innumerable individuals and organizations.

Akwa Ibom airport is arguably the first Airport in Nigeria to secure approval for its operational manual. This also entails regular updating of its critical safety facilities to bring them in sync with international best practices as enunciated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). For instance, in October, 2010, AKIA underwent the commissioning/calibration of the navigational aids by the Senegalese-based company, ASECNA. Shortly after that, the facility achieved the upgrade from Visual Flight Rule (VFR) status to Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) operations and night operations.

At so many times, people do wonder if the airport does deserve to be branded an international airport. Akwa Ibom International Airport has fulfilled her mandate as an international facility having commenced yearly direct airlifting of Christian pilgrims from Uyo to Jerusalem since December 2010. The operations cover pilgrims from three states of Akwa Ibom, Abia and Cross River.

AKIA was designed with three major components, namely; the passenger airport, the cargo wing and the Maintenance Repairs and Overhaul (MRO) facility. Its runway dimension of 3.6 km by 60m expandable to 4.2km makes it the second longest runway among Nigerian airports only cueing behind the international runway of national premier gateway, the Muritala Mohammed Airport, Lagos of 3.9 km. The critical Aircraft for AKIA is Boeing 747. This is beside the fact that the Airport is now putting in place the requirement to handle the Airbus A380 by adjusting taxiway dimension and parking areas (Apron). The new terminal building under construction is making provisions for the A380 airbus.

Having come this far with the first phase of development, the second phase is going to focus on considering and selection of an operator for the MRO together with securing all the technical approvals. This phase will also witness the building of the main terminal building (contract for construction and equipment has already been awarded) and the taxi way in addition to extending the interim terminal building apron. Also a brand new VIP hanger is being developed besides the main MRO. In addition, the MRO apron will also be extended to accommodate cargo operations. Contracts for all these have already been awarded by the state Government and works have since commenced.

From the foregoing, it is clear that AKIA has been strategically positioned for seamless international aviation services.

On the standard quality of facilities at the airport, the commissioner for special duties, Barr. Austin Mbeh opened up during the 2013 budget defense session held at the House of Assembly Complex. An elated Barr. Mbeh informed the lawmakers that the Ibom International Airport has earned the rating of the productivity merit award as the best and neatest airport in Nigeria.

Recently, Barr. Mbeh led a cream of journalists in the state on a tour of facilities at the airport. The pressmen were conducted round the taxiway, apron expansion and the international Terminal building site at the Airport.

Briefing them, Commissioner Mbeh, explained that the decision by Governor Godswill Akpabio to give Akwa Ibom people such world class facility which he noted has remain a signature project of the uncommon transformation agenda of his administration, was in line with his promise to change the status of the state from a mere pedestrian state to a destination of choice.

Akwa Ibom International Airport according to Austin Mbeh is rated as the best in Nigeria in terms of facility, operation, management as well as cleanliness of the airport, and any attempt to say more than this amounts to overemphasis.

Conducting newsmen round the sites of taxi way , apron and International Terminal building handled by Gitto Construction company and Alcon Nigeria Limited, respectively, the Special Duties commissioner explained that the provision of a taxi way at the airport became necessary in order to complement the runway in view of the anticipated increase in air-related activities that would arise upon the completion of the International Terminal and M.R.O Facility. Already the Nigeria Airspace management Agency, NAMA, has granted a 24 hour flight operation status to Ibom airport.

At the Maintenance Repairs and Overhaul facility which is nearing completion, representative of Alcon Nigeria Limited, Engr. Micho and the Consultant, Engr. Simeon Aroroye, informed members of the press that commercial operation at the M.R.O. will commence in the third quarter of 2014.

It was also gathered that over N400 million have so far been generated by the Ibom Airport , with a passenger volume of One hundred and Eighty seven thousand patronizing the airport as at 2012.

At the International Terminal building where work was seen progressing steadily, the contracting firm ALCON, assured of its readiness to deliver the assignment on schedule. The Akwa Ibom International Airport readily presents a clear picture of a state on wings soaring to higher heights, little wonder everyone visiting Akwa Ibom in recent times has not been able to resist the temptation of applauding Governor Akpabio for the vision of executing an international aviation facility in the State.

Clearly seen, the airport has not only placed Akwa Ibom on the international aviation map, it has made the state a vibrant and pulsating economy teemed with the life of living with investors and tourists; playing host to an unprecedented number of passengers since the commencement of commercial operations there, and the fact that most air travelers to this part of Nigeria prefer the world’s newest airport, survey indicates that passenger traffic has skyrocketed with its resultant booming revenue generation.

ESSIEN NDUESO writes from Uyo,Akwa Ibom State


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