By Jonathan Ugbal
Aero Contractors on Monday resumed flight operations on its Lagos – Calabar- Lagos and Abuja – Calabar – Abuja routes with one of the two Boeing 737 purchased by the Cross River State Government.
The maiden flight into the Margaret Ekpo International Airport was welcomed with a wash down at a few minutes past 9:00AM on Monday with the Governor, Ben Ayade and a retinue of aides applauding its touchdown.
The flight was initially billed for Saturday, July 24th but was rescheduled without any information from the State or Aero contractors.
The aircraft, a Boeing 737-36Q with tail number 5N-BYQ, manufactured in 1998 with Serial Number 30334 and Line Number 3120 is 21.9 years old and was first flown on 14th August 1999.
The purchase of the aircraft, floating of an airline and the deal with Aero contractors has been shrouded in secrecy.
The dream began in September 2016 after the visit of the MD/CEO Dana Group of Companies Plc Jacky Hathiramani to the State.
The Governor had said Aero had “some challenges” which prevented it from completely refurbishing the De Havilland Canada Dash – 8 bought by the previous administration. He said this was a “well established” fact.
He added that Dana will do a specific technical and business survey to ensure the plane is back on air in a few months to ply the Calabar – Bebi – Calabar (CBQ-BEB-CBQ), Calabar – Lagos (CBQ-LOS) and Calabar – Abuja (CBQ-ABV) routes especially as the Carnival and Calabar festival was around the corner.
The partnership with Dana was for the Calabar Pharmaceutical company (CalaPharm) and Cally Air.
In 2018, he said the airline will fly to Equatorial Guinea as well.
In April 2020, he approved the withdrawal of NGN250 million from the accounts of each of the 18 Local Government Areas in the State as equity investment with the Heads of Local Government Administration (HOLGAs) reportedly forced to sign the release of the funds.
But, years down the line, Mr. Ayade will change his mind and choose the same Aero Contractors that he said was having challenges.
The deal has never been made public excluding an interview with this Newspaper where he said that the operational management will be handled by Dana. That interview was in April, 2021 and he said Dana despite an Aero Contractors pilot flying the first aircraft to Lagos.
In that interview, he suggested that the airplanes may even serve for cargo flights.
CrossRiverWatch first reported the transfer of dozens of millions of dollars for the procurement of the aircrafts.
Two aircrafts were then paid for and painted by Magnetic MRO in Eastern Europe.
However, the controversy over the airline continued after the “Air” was removed from the livery with only “Cally” left.
Also, passengers are expected to book via the Aero contractors portal and not Cally Air.
The plane has since departed for Abuja.
Below are photographs by Daniel Williams…
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