Cally Air Resumes Flights To Calabar After Eight Months Hiatus

In Breaking News, Business & Economy

By Jonathan Ugbal

On Friday, Nigeria’s oldest civil aviation company, Aero contractors resumed flying the Calabar route from Lagos and Abuja after it halted flights into the Cross River State capital for eight months.

The airline had halted flights into the city before it stopped scheduling services on July 20, 2022, over financial difficulties.

The flight to Calabar from Lagos was operated with one of the two Boeing 737’s leased from the Cross River State Government by the aviation company and registered 5N-BYR – a 24-year-old plane whose first flight happened on December 12, 1998. It is painted with a “Cally” livery.

The jetliner is one of the six aircraft Aero Contractors used in resuming scheduled flights on December 5, 2022, after the new Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Captain Ado Sanusi disclosed in a press conference that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority had given the airline the green light to commence operations.

According to data from FlightRadar24, 5N-BYR’s first commercial flight was on December 5th from Lagos to Abuja. Since then, the aircraft had seen six pressurization circles every day excluding December 7th, when it had only five. It has been utilized for Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Sokoto routes with Calabar being the fifth since its return to service.

The purchase of the aircraft by the Cross River State Government, the attempt to float an airline, and the deal with Aero contractors have been shrouded in secrecy.

The dream began in September 2016 after the visit of the MD/CEO of Dana Group of Companies Plc Jacky Hathiramani to the State.

The Governor, Senator Ben Ayade 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 the 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.

Years down the line, Mr. Ayade will change his mind and choose the same Aero Contractors that he said were 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.

The maiden flight into the Margaret Ekpo International Airport was welcomed with a washdown a few minutes past 9:00 AM on Monday, July 26, 2021, with Governor 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 used, a Boeing 737-36Q with tail number 5N-BYQ, manufactured in 1998 with Serial Number 30334 and Line Number 3120 was 21.9 years old at the time and was first flown on 14th August 1999.

But, the controversies were far from over as the Commissioner for Aviation, Jake Otu Enyia led a protest to Heritage bank over disagreements on the financing of the operations. This was followed by Aero limiting its number of flights to Calabar before subsequently canceling flights to the city.

At the time of filing this report, the aircraft had departed Abuja and missed its final approach into Margaret Ekpo International prompting a “missed approach manoeuvre,” before shooting its final and touching down at about 1:22 PM. It is expected to board passengers traveling to Lagos.

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