Nigeria’s Ibom Air (QI, Uyo) plans to double its Bombardier Aerospace fleet in the next three years and aspires to acquire larger aircraft in line with aspirations to develop Uyo into an international gateway, Chief Operating Officer George Uriesi said.

The state-owned start-up recently received its fifth CRJ900 from Calgary, Canada, but immediate plans for another two aircraft have been put on hold until the impact of the COVID-19 crisis is better understood, Uriesi told Forbes.

“We are busy reviewing our business plan now and (are) waiting to see what kind of traction we get,” he said. “We intend to grow our fleet of CRJ900s to ten, and we will then change to another, bigger aircraft type. We were going to get to 10 in three years, but with COVID-19, only God knows what's going to happen.”

Having started in 2019, Ibom Air currently serves five domestic destinations: Uyo, Abuja, Calabar, Enugu, and Lagos

Uriesi said the addition of a larger aircraft type would drive expansion across West and Central Africa and “maybe up to East Africa eventually” – but that long-haul flights were not in the business plan. He said Ibom Air would first launch cross-border operations from Lagos and Uyo with its CRJs before diversifying its fleet. “We will start with some of the nearby destinations like Accra, Libreville, and Douala.” He said the long-term strategy was for Uyo to become a “semi-hub” offering one-stop connections from coastal Central African states to Lagos, Abuja and other points in West Africa. Inbound flows would primarily come from countries with poor connectivity, such as Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Cameroon, and São Tomé & Príncipe.

Meanwhile, contracts have been awarded for the construction of an MRO facility at Uyo's Obong Victor Attah International Airport, according to state governor Udom Emmanuel. He disclosed this at the unveiling ceremony of Ibom Air’s latest CRJ900. A new international terminal building is already under construction. The developments, he said, reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to making Akwa Ibom an aviation hub for Nigeria and West Africa.

The Vanguard newspaper earlier this year reported UAE investors, at the 2020 Global Investment in Aviation Summit held in the United Arab Emirates, had expressed interest in constructing and managing the MRO facility, as well as investing in Ibom Air.