As dawn approached on March 29, my excitement was palpable. The early hours, my usual haven for quiet productivity, were filled with anticipation for a landmark event in Nigerian aviation: AirPeace's inaugural flight to London Gatwick. Despite an unexpected reschedule of my initial flight due to technical hurdles, the day promised to be one for the books. Starting with a surprise batch of homemade egg rolls for my kids, since it was Good Friday,  the morning reflected my joy and pride for AirPeace's milestone and what it represented for Nigeria.

The unforeseen delay in my flight showcased the unity within the Nigerian aviation industry. Mr George Uriesi, COO of Ibom Air, exemplified this spirit by ensuring my participation in this historic event. He ensured I had a seat on their 3:00 pm flight out of Uyo and that the ticket was free. This gesture highlighted the industry's collective support for AirPeace's success. When we arrived in Lagos, he said, "Let them know that we at Ibom Airlines are rooting for them."

Shalom Asuquo with Festus Keyamo
Minister of Aviation

The electric energy at Lagos International Airport, teeming with a colourful, enthusiastic crowd, set the stage for what AirPeace envisions for aviation: inclusivity and the democratization of flying. This event transcended a mere flight; it symbolized a leap forward in progress, unity, and a deep-rooted sense of Nigerian pride. The scene was alive with warm embraces, selfie sessions, and cordial exchanges among notable figures, including AirPeace's Chairman Allen Onyema, Vice Chairman Alice Onyema, and the dynamic CEO/COO Toyin Olajide. Representing the Tinubu administration, the gathering boasted distinguished guests like Sen. Buhari Abdulfatai - chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, alongside the diligent Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Doris Nkiruka Uzoka-Anite, and other key figures like MD of FAAN Olubunmi Kuku, Ag: MD NCAA Chris Najomo and Prof. Obiora Okonkwo, Founder and Chairman of United Nigeria Airlines.

Captains of Industries, including Obi Iyiegbu of Cubana Group and aviation sector executives, like the former Arik Air MD and insurance company directors, were part of the distinguished assembly. The event also spotlighted influencers and celebrities like Chioma Akpotha, Ufoma McDermott, Omoni Oboli, and Uche Jombo, embarking on an Easter getaway, and a broad representation from the MDs and founders of travel and tours companies led by NANTA's Susan Akporiaye and Yinka Folami. Among the crowd were passengers from all walks of Life, including children and infants, each contributing to the vibrant tapestry of this celebratory occasion.

One of the day's highlights was the onboard dining experience, a heartfelt tribute to Nigerian culture and entrepreneurship. AirPeace chose to serve a selection of foods from notable Nigerian companies, turning the meal service into a celebration of Nigerian culinary heritage and economic vibrancy. The menu featured delicious jollof rice, a staple in every Nigerian home, served alongside succulent chicken and plantain, Efo Riro and semo, with goat meat pepper soup as a delightful addition. Water is Aquadana table water from Ashmina Limited, a DANA group of Companies that also owns an airline, Chi exotic juice from Chi limited, Golden Penny Semovita from flour mills of Nigeria,  vegetables for the efo riro soup and hibiscus flowers for zobo drinks from our local farmers and Snacks included Gratia chin chin flakes from The Flourishing Treat Company Limited and Oluolu gourmet plantain chips, showcasing popular Nigerian snacks that resonate with nostalgia and pride. Touching down at Gatwick Airport around 5:25 am, the aeroplane was filled with passengers clapping, a celebration signifying more than a flight's conclusion. It was a profoundly nostalgic moment for me, marking the first time a Nigerian airline landed in the UK in seven years since Medview's last service. This arrival symbolized not merely a journey's end but the revival of cherished connections. In a heartwarming gesture of appreciation, the airline's management presented every young and old passenger with a backpack, serving as a keepsake of this historic flight.

In a striking nod to Nigeria's deep-rooted cultural diversity, AirPeace in 2023 made a bold and beautiful statement on the global stage by introducing the Isi Agu attire into its uniform ensemble. Translating to "head of the leopard," this outfit is more than just fabric; it's a vibrant emblem of strength and prestige, deeply cherished in the Igbo culture—one of Nigeria's 350 ethnic groups in a country that speaks 527 languages with over 1150 dialects, spreading across a vibrant tapestry of over 200 million people. This vast cultural expanse unfolds across 36 states and a federal capital territory, covering 923,768 square kilometres of rich, diverse land called NIGERIA.

The Isi Agu's integration into AirPeace's uniforms celebrates Nigerian identity and showcases the country's rich traditions on an international aviation platform. AirPeace's introduction of such a significant cultural symbol in a modern twist honours the Igbo heritage. It is a testament to the airline's commitment to promoting Nigerian culture on the world stage.

This decision to feature Nigerian brands was a testament to Allen Onyema's, the airline's founder, deep-rooted love for humanity and his desire to uplift local businesses. Each item served was not just a meal but a story of a Nigerian entrepreneur, a farmer, or a company contributing to the nation's economy and cultural richness.

 Meal on board Air Peace

On April 6, the return journey with AirPeace, this time from the comfort of business class, served as a testament to the airline's exceptional service and dedication to presenting the finest aspects of Nigeria. The ease of check-in, the luxury of the lounge (mylounge), and the inherent warmth of Nigerians brought us together at a communal table during an impromptu breakfast meetup. This gathering was graced by notable individuals, including Abiodun Agbaje - Regional Executive Lagos Bank, Heritage Bank; Samuel Bajomo - SA EDI & CIP; Janet Oputa - SA Service Delivery; Chinyere Umeasiegbu - MD of Global Links & Services Ltd, Chinwe Eluchie - MD of Ace Voyages Ltd, Boma Onokpasa-Ukwunna - ED of Cargo Services at SAHCO, and The Minister of Aviation, Festus Keyamo, who was also on the flight in a twist of fate as we all flew in the business class cabin. This unique opportunity allowed for an exchange of visionary ideas, aspirations, and concerns. Festus Keyamo shared insights into President Tinubu's aviation roadmap and objectives, urging patience and support for the ongoing governmental efforts. This breakfast also offered a delightful reunion with my former colleague, Abiodun Agbaje, from our days at Prudent Bank. It was a moment of connection and reflection. As we boarded our flight, the unparalleled service in the business class cabin reaffirmed AirPeace's commitment to quality and customer satisfaction, encapsulating a memorable journey.

According to AACS Asserts, in their April 8, 2024, publication titled "Allen Onyema can do no Wrong" on LinkedIn, Airpeace may have saved and contributed over $2 billion to the economy when the numbers are crunched. This revelation isn't merely about figures; it's a saga of vision, courage, and an unwavering love for humanity where competition beats exploitation. 

As AirPeace continues to expand its horizons, opening new routes and connecting more people across the globe, it carries with it the spirit of Nigeria. The inaugural flight to London Gatwick was a journey across borders and a leap towards a future where Nigerian businesses, culture, and hospitality soar globally.

To those who seek not just a flight but an experience imbued with the essence of Nigeria, AirPeace is your gateway. Join us as we embark on journeys that celebrate our heritage, support our local economy, and unite us with the world. 

Raising a toast to the boundless skies, where dreams spread their wings, and to a horizon where we ascend unison. This embodies our motto at Travel Lab Nigeria: "Life's a journey. Let's plan the trip.

Shalom Asuquo

Founder, Travel Lab Nigeria Ltd