The thriving aviation industry in Ondo and that Governor Akeredolu’s intervention, By STEVE OTALORO

Steve Otaloro

The global airline industry was valued at only 359.3 billion U.S. dollar in 2020 due to the corona virus outbreak and it was estimated to reach 471.8 billion U.S. dollars this year 2021. The industry includes passenger transportation on scheduled and nonscheduled routes, both domestic and international, as well cargo transporting.

In the last decade, the aviation industry demonstrated stable growth, which suggested the possibility of continued expansion in the years to come. For instance, revenue in the global aviation industry grew at a compound annual growth rate of around 5.3 percent between 2009 and 2019, reaching 838 billion U.S. dollar in 2019. The sector’s improved financial performance during this period was driven by the rising number of air cargo operation and the increased in passenger flight.

Although, the global commercial air travel industry is booming, passenger yields have been consistently declining over the past years, with a decline rate of 8.7 percent in 2020. This, however, is much lower than the 11.9 percent rate decline captured in 2015.

Despite the declining passenger yields, the overall revenue generated from passengers increased in recent years. Several factors explain this divergence. First, the overall number of passengers have been on the increase every year since 2010, counterbalancing the lower yields. Likewise, the passenger load factor has been increasing, essentially, meaning there are, increasingly, fewer empty seats on flights.

It is, perhaps, this heartwarming statistics in the aviation sector of the world economy that captured the interest of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, to, immediately, tap into this almost non-existent sector in the state when he stepped in the saddle in 2016 as governor of Ondo State.

One way to measure the number of air passenger ratings in a country is to look at the number of passengers traversing the airports in the country. Alternatively, the frequency of traveling schedule available to an airline operations can also be considered, in which case, the newly energized Akure airport by the administration of Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, has surpassed all expectations.

Nigeria has 32 airports, 26 of which are operated by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), and five of which are functional as international airports. There, also, exists a state-owned airport located in Akwa Ibom State.

The Akure airport’s expansive land which spans several acres is a wonder to behold. Tucked in an agrarian community in the Akure South LG area of Ondo State, is a few kilometers from the Akure metropolis, the state capital; one would be thrilled, even from the distance, with the much hard work and vision behind the airport project.

Unfortunately, this humongous airport, which is three times bigger in landmass than the MMA in Lagos has not lived up to the expectations of the assessors in anything close to an airport since it was inaugurated by the military administration of General Badamosi Babangida.

In 2013, FAAN designated 13 airports as perishable cargo airports in a bid to transform the aviation sector into a major revenue earner for the country. The Akure airport was one of them. FAAN promised in vain to develop to international standard the perishable cargo facilities to enhance their operations. The Akure airport is, however, not the only airport with abandoned cargo project. Eight other airports designated for cargo in the country have faced the same fate.

The Akure airport built by the Federal Government in 1986 as a domestic airport for commercial airlines operation was meant to serve Ondo and other neighbouring states like Ekiti and Osun. The airport, when it was built, stood as a major landmark of the old Ondo State comprising the present Ekiti State. Unfortunately, it went into comatose as there were no patronages from any of the airlines in the country. The defunct Nigeria Airways which plied the route in the 80s when the airport was built only did so for a short time.

The story of the airport changed when the Oluwarotimi Akeredolu’s administration stepped in the saddle of the state in 2016. The Governor has a clear vision of what he intends to do with the skeletal services in the airport and the low patronage from domestic airlines in the country which did not acknowledge the airport as commercially viable for them to operate.

The administration of governor Akeredolu brought in Peace Airline with the intention of airlifting passengers from Akure to Abuja and from Akure to Lagos at subsidized rate charged on every passenger in order to not discourage its patronage by high cost of operations. The government also helped in creating public awareness for the airline and facilitated advertisements for its patronage.

Arakunrin Akeredolu took upon himself the role of the spokesperson of the airline. He strongly advocated on behalf of the airline using the weight of his office to talk to the people why it is easier and more convenient to fly than to travel by road. This public enlightenment campaign resonated with the people and led to noticeable increases in the number of passengers and subsequently increased the flight at the Akure airport route, significantly, from its initial two flights a week to daily commercial passengers flights.

With this kind of incentive to airlines operators and investment in the aviation sector by the Akeredolu’s government, it turned out as a good one for sustainability and to pave the way for future development. And that is exactly what happened. After the first successful flights, it became imperative that aircraft will form a new, major, transport industry in the state and will eventually grow the state economy.

As a response to high interest in the aviation sector in the state, the number of trips by the airline increased sharply from the rate of two times a week to daily flights. The number of airlines operating in the state have also increased from one airline to three airlines which all disenplane passengers from Abuja to Akure and from Lagos to Akure, while at the same time, enplaning passengers from same route to the commercial capital of Nigeria, Lagos and the federal capital, Abuja, on daily basis.

These routes have, at present, become profitable for the airlines and it holds the records at the fastest growth rate in the aviation industry in Nigeria. It is, now, a common sight at Akure airport to see passengers scrambling for the purchase of tickets as they know they can enplaned in Akure in the morning and arrived in Abuja in less than an hour later, and ditto Akure to Lagos in less than a half of an hour.

This new development has had positive impact on the economy of the state as its GDP growth rate is an important indicator to suggest that Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu investing the state resources in revamping the comatose Akure airport that belongs to the FAAN was well thought out as it has yielded huge success for the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, owners of the airport, the airlines operators, the people who throng the airport daily to board a flight and the Ondo State government for its strategic and wise investment.

Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu’s wise investment of using the state resources to build a new passenger terminal at the Akure airport that belongs to the federal government, equipped it, upgraded many of the dilapidated infrastructure of the airport before signing an MoU with one of the major airline operators in the country to ply the Akure routes, was a necessary expenditure, which has impacted positively on the state economy.

With the success recorded by the airport, Arakunrin Akeredolu has since proposed building a new and a much bigger passenger terminal at the airport to cater for the huge influx of passengers in the state and from the neighboring states of Ekiti and Osun who troop to the airport to travel by air to the nations capital in Abuja and the commercial hub of Lagos, while, also, returning the same day to Akure. Something that could only be dreamt of before the coming of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu in 2016.

Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu has been well praised and called upon to appraise his good performance in Ondo State. He has achieved a lot in all the sectors of the state within the short time frame of his administration in the state. However, Arakunrin Akeredolu’s ingenious solution to reviving a dormant airport built several decades ago to a thriving airport and one of the best in terms of growth ratio in the country is one big legacy history will record for posterity on a framed scroll.

The constant flight of airplanes at a very low altitude before take off at the Akure airport and while landing has created a tourism-like sight attraction for people living around Alayere, Ayede Ogbese, Bolorunduro, Ilu-Abo and Oba-Ile axis of Akure South LG of the state.

Though, this type of development does not make headlines, it, certainly, inspires people by creating some viewing spectacle for the people living in the hinterland of the state where the airport is located.

▪︎Steve Otaloro, an APC chieftain in Ondo State, contributed this piece from Akure.

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