By Chioma Iruke and Grace Udofia
Bayelsa State International Airport conducted its inaugural flight on Wednesday, August 12 via United Nigeria Airlines, conveying state government Officials from the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos and arriving in Bayelsa at exactly 3.45pm.
The aircraft conveyed the state Governor, Douye Diri, the Airline’s Chairman, Obiora Okonkwo, Tokyo Olympics wrestling silver medallist, Blessing Oborududu, King Alfred Diete-Spiff, Ambassador Boladei Igali, members of the Bayelsa National Assembly caucus, state House of Assembly members, Commissioners, among other dignitaries.
With the commencement of commercial flights, questions as to the choice of United Airline for the inaugural flight are already being asked. The choice of United Airline (Enugu, South-East) over a closer ally, Ibom Air (Akwa Ibom, South-South) is more suspicious than it seemed.
It would be recalled that in May, the Bayelsa government signed a partnership with the Akwa Ibom State Government on the use of Ibom Air to start commercial flight operations at the Bayelsa International Airport. While United Airline also signed an MoU with the Bayelsa government, it was already speculated that Ibom Air would kick off flights to the airport.
Speaking as the leader of a delegation from Bayelsa at a meeting in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom capital, Bayelsa Deputy Governor, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, said the choice of Ibom Air was informed by proximity and the good bilateral relations between the two sister states.
Mr Ewhrudjakpo, in a statement by his Media Aide, Doubara Atasi, explained that Akwa Ibom has proved itself as a dependable neighbour to Bayelsa in so many ways over the years, which must be reciprocated “in the spirit of give-and-take”. He expressed optimism that the partnership deal would soon be sealed for the airline to commence flights to and from Bayelsa, Lagos and Abuja, describing the two routes as the highest in traffic for the people of the state.
When HERITAGE TIMES contacted Ibom Air on Saturday to find out what transpired between the two parties, no precise answer was given, as the Airline’s spokesperson deferred response and advised our correspondent to “call back on a weekday”. Thus, the Airline’s response suggests that there may have been a fallout, with no final agreement reached between the two parties, as no further discussions were announced aside that of May 9.
While announcing the commencement of commercial flights in Bayelsa, Gov Diri said full commercial flights would commence in two weeks based on bookings made.
“This significant event is the culmination of the aspirations that was birthed by late Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, former governor of the state, which was eventually built by Senator Seriake Dickson, my predecessor. And it is under my administration that this project was crystallised. This is a demonstration that team work truly works.
“I am happy to report to you that the pilot of the United Nigeria Airlines said our runway is one of the best in Nigeria. It is our determination to make Bayelsa truly the Glory of All Lands and we are making Bayelsa a construction site,” he said.
Meanwhile, HERITAGE TIMES spoke to Air Peace and Dana Air, who both confirmed that plans are already on ground to expand their flight operations to the oil-rich state. “Once we are ready, we will inform the flying public,” Stanley Olisa, Air Peace Spokesman informed.
Bayelsa International Airport (also Known as Bayelsa Cargo Airport) was commissioned for construction in 2012 by erstwhile Governor Seriake Dickson. On April 17, 2021, the airport was granted commercial flight operations approval by Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). The Bayelsa airport is located in Wilberforce Island, Yenogoa the state capital.