Posted by Sade Williams
United Nigeria Airlines maiden flight to the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu Friday, was accorded a rousing reception by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who expressed joy that airline chose Enugu as its operational hub.
An excited Ugwuanyi, who was represented at the event by his Deputy Chief of Staff, Prof. Malachy Okwueze, said the management of United Nigeria Airlines made the right choice in choosing Enugu.
While disclosing that the state government was ready to partner with United Nigeria and make its investments in the state successful, the Governor lauded the management for believing in the state.
“Enugu state government is excited to welcome United Nigeria Airline. We congratulate the company, particularly, the chairman of the airline for this very giant feat. We are excited not only because United Nigeria is now flying into Enugu but particularly because Enugu is the operating hub. Enugu is the best state where any business can thrive. It is a home of peace and the safest State in Nigeria”, the governor said.
He further stated that “I can assure you that you have not made any mistake to make Enugu your hub. The state government will give you all the encouragement and we will continue to support you. We are glad to welcome you and we will continue to partner with you.”
Speaking earlier, Chairman of the new airline, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, said the management decided on Enugu as its operational hub because of the need to expand the economy of the region.
According to him, Enugu is the heart of the southeast and offers great business opportunities that are yet to be tapped.
Dr. Okonkwo, who is a frontline aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the Anambra state governorship election holding November 2021, said the company will expand its operations to other states of the country and the West Coast region.
“Our short term is to consolidate. You can see we have a base in Enugu. And we have to consolidate, establish all our routes and then work about expanding. We want to expand beyond Nigeria, starting from the West Coast; just for a start. We have a big plan”, he said adding that the aviation sector offers room for more investments.
Noting that he was driven by the patriotic zeal to serve Nigerians and offer solutions to travel needs, Dr. Okonkwo stated that opportunities in the travel industry are huge.
“The market is huge; there is a need for a lot of aircraft. It might surprise you to know that we have a full load in all the routes we have operated this morning. Today is the first day of our service so that is good and it shows what will happen”, he said.
Chika Adeyanju, station manager for United Nigeria, said the airline decided to use Enugu as its operational base because of the airline’s resolution to unite Nigeria and make a difference in the industry.
“We notice that most airlines have their operational base in Abuja, so we wanted to make a difference, and we decided to start from Enugu so that things will be normalised and equalised,” Adeyanju said.
She said air travel will continue to grow in Nigeria because it is easier for people to move from one place to another by air, adding that as more airlines spring up, it denotes healthier competition and better choices for passengers.
“We are United Nigeria, flying to unite. We want unity, peace and on-time travel. Our unique selling point will be safety and on-time departure,” Adeyanju said.
“We have four aircraft and some more will come soon. Since we are starting with domestic, it is viable for us to start with small aircraft. As time goes on, we will be having up to four or five flights into Enugu,” she said.
Cecilia Oguama, terminal manager, Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, said the airport management is happy that United Nigeria has commenced operations and assured that if the airline creates enough awareness, it would have enough passengers.
“The traffic in and out of the airport has increased tremendously. We are now having between 6,000 and 7,000 passengers weekly. Before COVID-19, we had less than 1,000 passenger traffic because we had only one airline then,” Oguama said.
“In 2019, we only had Air Peace operating but now we have four others operating regularly including United Nigeria Airline. We have close to eight flights daily and United Nigeria Airline has made Enugu their base, so they would enjoy tremendous support from the airport. Cargo movement has not started yet because the international terminal hasn’t opened for operations,” she said.
United Nigeria airlines commenced regular flight operations from Lagos, Abuja, Asaba and Enugu. A source close to the airline said the Owerri and Port Harcourt routes will be activated in a few more days.
The Enugu airport welcome party included the cutting of the inaugural flight cake of the company as well as prayers to God for smooth operations offered by Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Obimma, also known as Ebube Muo Nso.
Present at the event included the traditional ruler of Ogidi in Idemili North local government area of Anambra state, His Royal majesty, Igwe Alex Onyido, Igwe Ezechuamagha na Ogidi, his Umunya counterparty, Igwe (Sir) Chris Onwekwuluje and the Igwe A.I Ofuebe, the Igwe Ogidiga of Ifite Ogwari.
The Archbishop of Onitsha, His Grace Most Rev. (Dr.) Valerian Okeke, was represented by Rev Fr. Prudentus Aroh, Chancellor of the Archdiocese, while Monsignor Luke Adike, Vicar General of Enugu Diocese, represented Bishop Callistus Onaga amongst others.