Recently, tongues wagged among some Nigerians when the federal government, through the Ministry of Aviation, unveiled the revised National Civil Aviation Policy in Abuja. Some took umbrage at certain provisions in the policy, saying they were targeted at specific individuals.
Particularly worrisome to some is the provision in the new policy barring owners of private jets from using their aircraft to ferry their friends and associates, as well as the clause that pilots of private jets must always declare their manifest.
Not a few have raised issues with Part 7 of the 10-part new aviation policy. The part deals with General Aviation (GA) and provides for measures to generate definite policies, develop regulatory framework and adequate infrastructure to support it. The part equally focuses on the need to control and monitor all non-scheduled flights operations – including helicopter operations (offshore and onshore) in Nigeria as well as the operation of foreign non-scheduled flights and flying schools.
To some, certain operators of private jets whose political views are opposed to those of some powerful interests in the ruling party, might be the target of the law.
But the agencies saddled with aviation operations in the country say the restrictions placed on the use of private jets are borne out of the need to stem the abuse of private jets in the country as well as for security reasons.
In an interview with the reporter, General Manager, Public Communications, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and coordinating manager of information and communications for aviation parastatals, Mr. Yakubu Dati, said it had become imperative for the federal government to take some actions on the abuse of private jets that had been going on in the country for long.
Dati informed that some owners of private jets could easily use their aircraft to convey some illegal items to the country if certain regulations were not instituted and enforced. In his words, it would be easy for illegal consignments, including cash and personalities that might constitute security threat to the country, to be airlifted in and out of the country in private jets if certain processes and procedures were not put in place.
“The security agencies have disclosed to us that many individuals that had been declared wanted in the country by some security outfits had been smuggled out of the country in private jets, even as some unwanted persons sneaked into the country without check as many private jets take off from private facilities at the airports,” Dati asserted.
According to Dati, what government intended to do was to monitor the operations of unscheduled flights and the manifests of these flights because of the security situation in the country.
He also noted that many private jets were no longer operating their aircraft as private jets, disclosing that many of them had turned their planes into commercial uses. He informed that charter services by private jets have become a lucrative business in the country, noting that 80 per cent of private jets with private licence were carrying out commercial operations. Dati insisted that such practices constitute safety challenges as an aircraft with a private licence is not subjected to compulsory maintenance checks as those with commercial licence are made to do by the regulatory body, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
Dati noted also that about 80 per cent of the 150 private jets operating in the country are registered overseas.
Said he: “What that means is that they are exempted from paying taxes as well as the five per cent charges to NCAA. And although they are owned by Nigerians, they are still designated as leased, so they are brought into the country without paying Customs duty.
“So, when you collate what government agencies lose by the illegal operations of many of these private jets, it amounts to over N25 billion in a year. And I can authoritatively tell you that it is now a lucrative business that businessmen bring in aircraft to operate as private jets while they are actually used for commercial purposes. So it makes nonsense of those charter operators who followed the laid down process, whose business has now been taken away by the illegal private operators.”
Dati informed that private jet owners that illegally engage their aircraft in charter operations have taken away substantial business from scheduled airlines, noting that those that would have filled the business class cabin are now airlifted by such illegal private charter services.
“This explains why our airlines are not growing. Instead of marked growth of our airlines, it is the number of private jets that are growing. This is an aberration. So government cannot fold its hands and watch this unfavourable situation which has already started affecting the nation’s economy, especially knowing the crucial role that scheduled airline operation play in any country.”
Dati said it was regrettable that the money used to buy these aircraft was made locally but taken away from the country to maintain foreign licence, foreign pilots and engineers and foreign maintenance services.
He said the Goodluck Jonathan administration, through the Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, has decided to put a decisive end to such illegal operations.
While unveiling the new National Civil Aviation Policy, the federal government had insisted that the new policy was necessary, as the aviation policy in the country was last reviewed in 2001. According to the Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Odua, many provisions in the last policy review had become obsolete and out of tune with modern realities in the global aviation sector. The new policy, she said, was intended to introduce new and sustainable regulatory regimes into the Nigeria aviation sector.
At the event, held in Abuja, Oduah had noted: “This revised policy captures the new vision and mission, the Aviation Master Plan of the Ministry and more importantly major programme areas like state safety programme; accident investigation and prevention, including the establishment of family assistance programme in the case of aviation accident; monitoring and control of General Aviation; introduction of an effective search and rescue mechanism, and the development of an effective and sustainable Economic Regulatory Framework, among others.”
She informed that the new policy places considerable focus on the efficient airspace management, human capital development, infrastructural development, and the introduction of dedicated policy and regulatory framework in controlling and monitoring of General Aviation operations, especially foreign registered aircraft. The essence of this, she stressed, is to streamline the operations of non-scheduled flights to conform with International Standards and Recommended Practices (ICAO SARPs) and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations.
The minister noted that the adoption of the policy would ensure that the General Aviation would now have a dedicated policy, regulatory framework, infrastructure and services to support its operations, unlike in the past when it operated largely in the shadow of commercial airlines.
“The policy also captures the validation of foreign crew licence required to certify foreign pilots who will be employed solely to train our qualified local flight crew towards the acquisition of mandatory flying experience.”
The minister expressed conviction that the revised National Civil Aviation Policy would, among others, “be responsive and adaptable to the new safety, security and technological dynamics of the global aviation industry; strengthen the existing regulatory framework; facilitate the growth of domestic airlines, the setting up of the National Carrier, the development of Aerotropolis (Airport Cities), and support the introduction and sustainability of affordable flights to remote and underserved cities as a Public Service Obligation.”