Sam Mbakwe Int'l Cargo Airport...the journey so far
-19 years of day flight operations:::
The history of Sam Mbakwe Airport (formally known as Imo Airport) as wellas it's operational status shall continue to generate mixed feelings amongstthe Imo citizenry. For record purposes, the airport was single - handedly builtby Imo people through a fund-raising committee chaired by late SenatorEvan Enwerem, who then the Chairman Board of Directors of Nigeria AirportsAuthority. In fact, every Imo citizen, home and abroad, through Town Unions, wasmade to contribute through what was then known as Airport levy. Evenschool children and the unemployed voluntarily contributed towards theproject in accordance with an I.B.C jingle that said "one naira is not too smallfor an Imo airport". All payments were duly receipted for. I still have mine uptill today. This zeal of contributors in ensuring the realization of the Imo airport projectstemmed from a general feeling of marginalization of the Imo people byFederal Government, controlled by several military juntas including the shortterm of Shagari administration. This marginalization was very clear and wasmeted out to Imo people with such impunity that the Federal Governmentduring the period was constructing airports all over the country. You can imagine State capitals such as Yola in Katsina State "blessed” with a standardinternational airport with little or no traffic nor economic value. Theauthorities, out of political persecution/ marginalization became myopic ofthe economic maxim, viability, when establishing a business venture. Flightfrequencies to such unviable airports where maintained inspite of poor loadstatus. Meanwhile, 80% of passenger traffic to and from Port Harcourt international airport came from Imo. Little wonder Port Harcourt had the highest number of daily flights in thecountry then. The Imo Airport, which is now christened by the same FederalGovernment as Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport had its inauguralflight on 14th August, 1994. In fact, I was a member of the technical crewalong with co-pilot Nnodim from Ngor-Okpala, Capt. Henry Omeogu fromIsiala Mbano, and Capt. Akosim from Isuochi as the Commander (Skipper) of that maiden flight into Owerri airport. In fact, on final approach, co-pilotNnodim out of excitement showed us his family house at Ngor-Okpala fewnautical miles away from the runway threshold. It was such joy and funthroughout the flight from Lagos that we saw the flight as a dream comethrough for our people, The aircraft, a Boeing 737-200 had full load ofpassengers comprising mainly, Permanent Secretaries, Directors in the ministry of Aviation, Nigerian Airways Ltd,, Nigerian Airports Authority,military administrators, captains of industries and other V.I.P.s. Twentyminutes after we touched down, the presidential jet (Flight NIGERIA 001)carrying the Head of State, General Sani Abacha landed. Soon after, theairport commissioned by Abacha. Landing Aids, lack of night facilities, and the International Cargo status of theairport It is worrisome that Sam Mbakwe airport since inception without NIGHTLANDING facilities up till this moment. Flights into Owerri must land anddepart on or before 17:45 hrs GMT (6.45pm). This time limit is to as thestation's SUNSET in aviation terminology. The implication is this time(6.45pm) the airport is closed to traffic. Reason: No night landing facility for in-bound flights, just as any flightdeparting Owerri that time shall not have access to return to base in event ofany technical/ weather problem. Initially NAVAIDS at this airport were inadequate until Dr. (Mrs.) Kema Chikwecame on board as Aviation Minister. Thank God today we can boast of ILS(Instrument Landing System) in place that guarantees safe landing duringDay operations. However, at times pilots resort to Visual Flight Rule (V.F.R.)when the ILS snaps. If Federal Government spent so much money in having the ILS in place atImo airport, why omit the NIGHT...
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