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It was a historic day as the government of Ebonyi State yesterday welcomed two aircraft at the inaugural flight held at the President Muhammadu Buhari International Airport, Onueke.
The Eastern Updates reports that Air Peace operated the first flights to the airport as its two Embraer 145 aircraft from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, and the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos touched down at the airport on Thursday, the 27 of April.
Speaking at the inaugural flight operations, the Governor of the State, Dave Umahi, said that so far, the project has gulped N36 billion and that from May, the state government will provide free flights twice daily from Abuja and Lagos for the next four weeks. The governor said that the airport would drive development and investments in the state and appealed to investors to take the opportunity of the airport to invest in the state.
He further called on the incoming government in the state to ensure good use of the facility for the people of the Ebonyi, the South East and the entire Nigerians.
‘When the first aircraft landed, I remembered Ebonyi and the toils of the founding fathers. It gladdens my heart that our dream has been actualised. I am grateful to President Muhammadu Buhari, who approved N10 billion loan for the international wing of the airport to be built. Some people tried to downgrade us but we fought on to make the project a reality. When we faced the challenge of lack of funds, President Buhari wrote to the Ministry of Finance and told them to make funds available for us. We are very grateful to him. ‘The total amount so far that was used to build this airport is N36 billion. What is remaining is the taxiway and airfield lightening which has already been paid for. Starting from May, the Ebonyi State government would operate two flights weekly from Lagos and Abuja free of charge for four weeks as a way to encourage travel into the state. Subsequently, we would want the Federal Government to take over the airport and concession it to make it more profitable,’ he said.
Umahi expressed gratitude to Buhari for approving funds needed for the project and also to the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, for ensuring the project got speedy approval.
‘We want to thank the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who promised us in his first tenure that he will ensure that the project is a reality. We also want to thank the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu for his support and also to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Godwin Emefelie and the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, who ensured that the funds the President approved was made available to us.
‘We wanted to do three mega projects in each senatorial district, we started a university in Ebonyi South and today, it is a success. We have started a stadium in Ebonyi North and by the next two weeks, we would ensure that it would reach 80% completion. The airport is located in Ebonyi Central and it is for everyone. We want to thank the House of Assembly for their support and for the speedy approval of the N10 billion loan we took for the project.
‘We faced a lot of challenges and criticisms for those who said the airport is an impossible project. When it was time to donate land, some people took us to court but we are grateful to the judiciary and the Izza nation for their support.
‘We are also very grateful to the Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Allen Onyema. When Nigerians were stranded in South Africa, he went and evacuated them free of charge. When Nigerians became stranded in Sudan, he has also offered to evacuate them free if charge. When it was time for this inaugural flight, he brought two of his aircraft to bring in people from Lagos and Abuja,’ Umahi said.
Also commenting, Capt. Musa Nuhu, appealed to the government to ensure regular maintenance of the airport.
Nuhu who was represented at the occasion by Mr. Emma Chukwu, said that said that the regulatory agency monitored the construction of the airport by the State Government from inception to the present stage.