… Many public officeholders, politicians indulge in the sharp practices
…Blame DSS, not NCAA for economic sabotage, stakeholder says
Crash landing of Hawker800 aircraft, at Ibadan Airport last weekend, has opened a new chapter on the prevalence of illegal commercial charter operators by elites, who are rich enough to acquire or lease private jets. Guardian reports.
The ill-fated aircraft, operated by Flint Aero has a permit that restricts it to non-commercial private operations alone, and therefore a criminal offence to have flown the Minister of Power, Adebayo Adelabu, for a reward.
While the serious incident is not yet linked to the legitimacy of the operation, as investigation is still ongoing, stakeholders said the case is another reminder of economic sabotage through reckless deployment of private jets for commercial purposes by the rich and top public office holders – in violation of the Civil Aviation rules.
Recall that an aircraft, Hawker Siddeley operated by the Flint Aero, en route Abuja-Ibadan crash landed short of the runway at Samuel Ladoke Akintola Airport, Ibadan, at about 19:21 on Friday.
The Guardian learnt that the jet, with a pilot and the minister onboard, crashed into the bush with substantial damage to the wheels and the wings. The souls onboard evacuated without fatalities.
The National Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB) has commenced an investigation.Preliminary findings on the Hawker equipment with the Nigerian registration number: 5N-AMM has, however, shown it to have the Permit for a Non-Commercial Flight (PNCF), and therefore, not eligible for commercial operation.
The Guardian earlier reported that the post-COVID-19 economic realities dipped the General Aviation segment with drastic reduction in the number of private jets in the country, declining from over 200 in 2015 to about 100 in 2022, out of which about 46 are active.
Operators also started deploying creative measures to cope with the trying times and drawn-out debt crises, though in a flagrant violation of civil aviation rules.
Besides evading duties accruable to the Federal Government, more owners were boycotting local rules to retain foreign registration numbers. Most disturbing for the sector is the illegal use of private jets for commercial and chartered operations – an encroachment into the turf of licensed air transport operators.
A licensed operator, yesterday, said the encroachment is pervasive, “and almost all public office holders are now guilty of it.”
“They patronise us and we know ourselves. Some of them tried to engage me in illegal activities and I refused. Several of them that have these jets are moving them into commercial operations to make cool money that sustains the high cost of maintenance, and their colleagues that do not have, are patronising them at an affordable rate.
“That is how they are killing our charter businesses through the back door, and also rob the country of taxes and charges. Our country is down, and our selfish leaders have finished the country. If the authorities doubt this claim, let the president commission an independent inquiry by a team that directly reports to him,” he said.
The Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations, Part 220.127.116.11 stated that Air Transport Licence (ATL) holders and Airline Operating Permit (AOP) holders with valid Air Operators Certificate (AOC) are the only ones authorised to carry out charter operations in the country as no person shall use aircraft in Nigeria for hire and reward without the above requirements.
Private owners, however, found the commercial operations more rewarding but without going through the rigors of AOP and ATL certifications and therefore, constitute both security and economic infractions that deprive the sector of a mandatory five per cent Ticket Sales Charge (TSC) and insurance claims for commercial customers, in case of accidents.
Charter airline operator, Captain Ibrahim Mshelia, said that the prevalence of illegal operators is more the fault of the Department of State Services (DSS).
Mshelia argued that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) could not discriminate between commercial and private operators at the point of registration, but the DSS that are all over the airports should flag operations that are outside the approval limits.
He said it is most unfortunate that aircraft owners are bypassing the AOC process (for commercial charter) that mandates employment of staff and payment of tax to the government.
“Tax is revenue to the government and good life to the people. Let them investigate and let’s see the calibre of people that will be exposed in the fraudulent acts.
They are leasing private airplanes, flying them around the country, while it is also making money for them. But they should own an AOC like myself, set up a company and employ people, but they are not doing that.
“Now, they are blaming the NCAA, but you cannot do that. The NCAA has no right denying anyone from applying for a licence.
The NCAA cannot just stop anyone from operations because it is also guided by rules, but it is the DSS that should be up and doing. They should be able to say ‘you said you are a private operator, but you go to Lagos three or four times in a day, what is happening, who are you carrying and what business are you transacting?
It is not the job of the NCAA, but that of the DSS at the airport that have been trained to do that,” Mshelia said.
Aviation Security consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said the country needs to do more on flight/flight plans control than just registration of equipment.
Ojikutu observed that there are still others with foreign registrations that are illegally carrying out commercial flights in-country – a criminal act that dates back to the past.
“Remember, the foreign registered aircraft that Rotimi Amaechi as Rivers State governor flew to Akure during the 2015 elections that was cleared from Port Harcourt (PH) to Akure, but was refused clearance for a return flight back to PH because its Security Clearance was said to have expired?
“Nigerian Airspace Management Agency’s (NAMA) ATCS did not see that before the takeoff from PH but political institutional corruption saw it at Akure Airport.
The NCAA and NAMA would need to work out the mode for clearing the flights for private aircraft/operators and those for chartered aircraft and operators.
“Their model of registration by the NCAA (local registration) too must be different from each other.
Foreign registered aircraft must not be allowed to operate to any of the international airports except the airport of the first entry and not more than one domestic airport until it gets out of the country or gets registered within three months from the date of entry,” Ojikutu said.