Air transport critical to economic growth, says United Nigeria boss, Prof. Okonkwo

The United Nigerian Airline Chairman, Prof. Obiorah Okonkwo said air transport is critical to the economic growth of the country, adding that as a result of that, the government had policies in place of subsidies on petroleum products, particularly on jet fuel.

Okonkwo who spoke to Aviation Metric in his office at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos equally stated that the aviation industry considers United Nigeria Airlines as an important part of business, stressing that it is a business that is being engaged in by a lot of patriotic Nigerians who are doing so much to help propel the economic activities of Nigeria and one that is badly affected as a result of the fluctuation of rising jet fuel prices, Foreign Exchange and other that have affected the sector.

Okonkwo explaining a point to journalists, recently

The scarcity of fuel in Nigeria negatively impacts sustainable economic development due to its crippling effect on energy-dependent productive activities in the country.

Jet fuel scarcity and consequential flight disruptions and cancellations are sometimes a yearly occurrence in Nigeria. These issues are usually due to importation challenges, licensing difficulties, and foreign exchange scarcity. From 2004 to 2008, the price of jet fuel per litre almost tripled in America.

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 In Nigeria, soaring fuel prices and scarcity reached a peak from 2015 to 2017 when the country fell into recession because of the global drop in crude oil prices, and the value of the naira, as a result, fell significantly against the dollar.

 Nigeria earns over 90 percent of its foreign exchange from oil and gas export, making the economy susceptible to crude oil price variations on the global scene.

Adequate fuel supply and availability are vital for economic sustainability. Aviation fuel accounts for more than 30 percent of an airline’s operating expenditure. Jet fuel price is one of the factors that determine airfare and airlines’ profitability.

He further stated that the Federal Government used to see air transport as an elite means of transportation and did not pay attention to it, hinting that air transportation had become a necessary means of travel for many reasons.

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He further disclosed that the United States of America has a population of 300 million with the best roads, and adequate security but maintained that air transport is still a very critical means and still very important for economic growth.

“If you take it away today, the whole world will be excluded from each other. You can imagine when you can’t fly to other countries; businesses and other economic activities will suffer, such is the situation in Nigeria. We are of the hope that this sector will in no distant time get the attention that it requires”.

“United Nigeria Airlines has in less than two years of operations expanded its services and has become one of the most promising airlines with continuous fleet expansion”.

Okonkwo noted that after twelve months of operating a lean fleet of five aircraft, the airline was able to unite over 500, 000 passengers with their destinations safely, operating more than 40 daily flights across the Southern cities and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

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“Through this, we have created over 500 direct jobs and more than a thousand indirect jobs. We are now in the process of expanding our domestic operations to reach, in the next few weeks, Benin, Kano, Jigawa, and Yola. These are part of our immediate expansion programme as we work to ensure that none of our aircraft remains on the ground. They belong to the skies and that is where they must be,” he said.

United Airline’s chairman, Chief Obiora Okonkwo

Going forward, the airline, he said shall be receiving wide-body aircraft for continental operations.

“Our plan here is to grow at our own pace. We plan that within the next 12 months, we see ourselves doubling the number of our fleets with larger passenger capacity aircraft”.

Wole Shadare