By Sumaila Ogbaje
Ethiopian Airlines on Tuesday commenced flight operations to Kaduna with Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which landed at the Kaduna International Airport from Addis Ababa at noon carrying 17 passengers on board.
The flight with registration number ET-9221, also departed for Addis Ababa at 1:30 p.m. with 10 officials of Kaduna State Government on board and other passengers.
Speaking before departure of the aircraft, Governor Nasir EI’ Rufai said Kaduna State had hitherto been disadvantaged in terms of access to the outside world.
The governor said the state had no access to sea, as well as lack of international flight into the state until the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja was shut for rehabilitation of its runway in March.
He said that with the inaugural flight, the airport had become a full fledged and this would enable people of the state to connect with over 100 destinations using the airline.
According to him, Ethiopian Airlines is the only international airline that has indicated confidence in Kaduna by deciding to fly the route.
“This is a very happy day for me and all of us in the Kaduna state, because when we came into office we recognised that Kaduna has two disadvantages.
“The first is that we do not have access to the sea, and the second is that we do not have international flights flying into Kaduna.
“So, our business men and residents have to go to Lagos for access to the sea, or go to Abuja or other destinations to board international flights.
“We decided that we had to work round the clock to remove those disadvantages. l’m happy to say today that with this inaugural international flight out of Kaduna, we have broken the ice,” he said.
The governor assured the management of the carrier that the state government would fully support the airline in order to make the route viable and sustainable.
“We are going on this inaugural flight along with 10 representatives of the Kaduna State
Government to spend two or three nights in Addis and come back, because we want to show the airline how grateful we are that this has started,” he said.
Earlier, the Chief Commercial Officer, Ethiopian Airlines, Mr Busera Awel, said the airline had always been with Nigeria in good and bad times.
Awel said that Kaduna was their fifth destination in Nigeria, adding that it operates five destinations in only two countries, China and Nigeria.
He said that the airline was willing to begin operations to any destination, adding that Ethiopiarecognised the big brother role being played by Nigeria in Africa.
“When the Abuja airport was closed, international airlines refused to come to Kaduna, we were also pushed not to come but we came.
“We have so much confidence in the government of Nigeria and that will not change.
“Today, Kaduna is the domestic route of 100 destinations. Also, effective today, Kaduna is connected to 55 African countries and this is what we mean by bringing Africa together and bringing Africa to the world.
“We are capable of bringing Africa together and that is why we are investing a lot in the industry.
We have the biggest maintenance Centre in Africa, five big hangers and the biggest catering services in Africa that can produce over 100 meals a day.
“We also have the largest fleet of 95 aircraft, the largest airline, most profitable and with the largest network in the world,” he said.
The Minister of State for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, said the government would support any airline that showed commitment to growing aviation business in the country.
Sirika, while commending the airline for accepting to commence full operation to Kaduna, said the government would provide an enabling environment for it to succeed.
He also commended the government of Kaduna State for its resilience toward developing and encouraging aviation business into the state.
According to him, the government is in position to encourage any airline that has the where withal and the capacity to provide service.
“We will indeed provide the enabling environment for that entrepreneurship to succeed.
“However, I must commend the effort of the government of Kaduna state for its support foraviation.
So we will encourage Kaduna State Government in its bid to provide employment and ginger economic activities and put their name on the map of aviation worldwide to bring economic benefit to people of the state.
“We thank you for encouraging international airlines to open routes here and we thank Ethiopian airlines for partnering with us because they have been with us since the time we shut down Abuja airport,” he said.
The Ethiopian Airlines now operates five routes which include Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Enugu and Kaduna.