By Ignatius Chukwu
By the end of next year, Turkish Airlines, which started 86 years ago with mere five airplanes, will have 500 in the air, and may increase from 122 countries currently. For that reason, the airline is in search of more viable routes; it is already the airline with the largest number of international routes. It has three destinations in Nigeria: Lagos, Abuja and Kano. So, Port Harcourt, presented itself as a bride to the airline to explore. Expansion dream is on the air for Turkish Air and PH is the heart of the oil region, no matter what anybody says.
On the other hand, the Port Harcourt International Airport at Omwagwa was in need of a new suitor in the form of an international airline. The international airport, which is the third busiest airport in Nigeria, began to decline, like many other aspects of the Garden City business life. By March, 2019, three international airlines; Germany’s Lufthansa based in Frankfort, the French airline (Air France) based in Paris, and a private airline, Cronus Airline, shuttled the West African Coast and Central African countries.
By April 2019, only Lufthansa was left. The shocking departure of the French Airline with its clout of associated companies left the Port Harcourt International Airport reeling. Reasons were adduced as to the cause of this sudden contraction. Explanations were made that international travellers made up mostly of business executives and oil company workers had left the Garden City and the oil region due to insecurity.
For over a decade, Port Harcourt or the oil region had de-marketed itself through kidnapping and later general violence highlighted by beheading and invasion of business premises in demand for revenue. Some multinational CEOs were abducted and huge sums paid out as ransom. Many closed down their businesses in anger while some departed and left their businesses in the hands of others.
The result was passenger drought on the international route. The outcome was the departure of international airlines and businesses that flock around them.
Beyond that, other man-made factors helped to de-market the PH airport. Most departing branch managers of the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) talked to airport correspondent in confidence. The recurring decimal was the decay in facilities. One said: “How come that the airport lacks banks and ATM machines, standard business centres and other facilities for the comfort of travelers?”
The stretch of road between the domestic and international wings posed another eye-sour. The rebuilding of the international wing which was commissioned around October 2018 looked superb but the patched and smoothened short road in-between soon washed off. Now, it has turned into a piece of embarrassment.
Life has however returned to the international airport. The Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, has done his best to lure life back there. He has promised to dualise the road right from the Airport Roundabout to the end. He has also promised to provide street lights and other enhancers, though he blamed the FG here and there (for allegedly refusing him to do them), which is understandable; based on the fierce politicking between two governments.
The governor took a front row in welcoming another international airline to Port Harcourt. He led his entire protocol and government leadership to the airport. He walked up to the staircase of the plane to welcome the Senior Vice President of Turkish Airlines, Karem Sarp. The General Manager of Turkish Airlines for Lagos and PH, Yunus Ozbek, ensured that traditional dancers (the Okrika water masquerade) and important dignitaries were on hand to make the maiden landing a memorable moment. The fire team demonstrated its readiness by spraying water in cascades on the taxiing plane to display a unique image that dazzled the eye.
Speeches and assurances were eventually made by the government people and aviation leaders, all celebrating the maiden flight.
The rest is for business to commence as the Turkish Airline is expected to make two landings in PH every week. Many persons said they hoped this would start a turn-around for good for Port Harcourt and for the oil region once more; but, the culprit, insecurity, still sits pretty and untamed, out there.