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Create special foreign exchange widow, United Nigeria Airlines boss urges CBN

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By Kelvin Osa Okunbor

Chairman United Nigeria Airlines, Obiora Okonkwo has called on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to create a special window for domestic carriers to access foreign exchange in procuring spares for their aircraft requiring immediate replacement.

Okonkwo said the existing bi-weekly window for bidding by banks on behalf of airlines is not yielding the right results as airlines now have to seek an alternative window to secure foreign exchange to meet their operational needs.

Speaking at a briefing in Lagos on operational plans of the airline, Okonkwo said the carrier is open to various options of collaboration including pooling of aircraft, spares, tools and expertise to deliver stronger airlines that will contribute significantly to the growth of the air transport industry.

Besides, delivering strong carriers, the United Nigeria Airlines boss said cooperation among airlines will drive down costs, creating economies of scale even as he unveiled plans by the airline to set up an aircraft Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Centre (MRO) in Enugu.

The MRO, he said, will serve not only United Nigeria Airlines but other operators who utilize the Enbraer regional jets.

United Nigeria Airlines, he said, is negotiating an additional two Embraer ERJ145 aircraft to help its consolidation plans on the domestic route with plans to procure a bigger aircraft as it consolidates its flight operations on designated routes.

Okonkwo said the Embraer 145 aircraft chosen by the carrier was carefully thought through because of its attendant fuel economy and efficiency, a factor he affirmed accounts for a significant reduction in operating costs.

He said: “The ERJ 145 is a good fuel-efficient aircraft and we are negotiating an additional two Embraers and we would use that to consolidate on our entire routes. As you know after we do that, we go for a bigger aircraft. As you know the Embraer is a good fuel-efficient aircraft but we need a bigger aircraft for baggage.

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“We have gone through due diligence before we earmarked the ERJ as the choice of aircraft and the fuel utilization is a huge advantage. It might surprise you to know that the evening we got our Air Operators Certificate (AOC) we opened our portal and on the first flight within 12 hours we have a full passenger load,” the Chairman said.

He said the carrier eight weeks after commencing operations, has flown over
25,000 passengers, with an average of 3,200 passengers weekly.

On its plan to establish its MRO, the Chairman said that United Nigeria was already in talks with foreign partners, which has reached an advanced stage.

“We are in a process of acquiring land space from FAAN to set up our MRO and since our base is in Enugu, we wanted to establish it there in Enugu. We gave ourselves 24 months to start doing our own C-Check in our facility”, he said.

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