Grounding Of Amaechi’s Aircraft: Between Politics And Aviation Rules

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As the controversy over the grounding of the aircraft purportedly belonging to Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State by the aviation authorities continue, the issues surrounding the delay and subsequent grounding of the aircraft have only succeeded in raising many questions that need to be answered.

amaechi-plane_500Otherwise, the debate on whether the grounding of the aircraft was politically motivated or purely an aviation matter will continue unabated.

Though aviation agencies including the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) have consistently maintained that their actions over the delay and subsequent grounding of the aircraft were purely based on aviation rules and regulations, analysts have continued to raise questions that seem to depict that there might be more to the issue than meets the eye.

Some of the issues so far include the ownership of the aircraft, why it took NAMA until recently to enforce the issue of submission of manifest for none scheduled or charter aircraft, where was NCAA when the aircraft papers expired? These and many more are some of the issues which industry stakeholders have said must be answered by relevant authorities before the dust will settle on the issue.

It will be recalled that the Bombardier -BD 700, Global Express aircraft with registration number N565RS conveying Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State was at the weekend delayed by the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) in Akure for non submission of the manifest by the pilot while NCAA later grounded it because the aircraft papers had expired since April 2, 2013.

Who owns the aircraft? While the Rivers State Government has said it owns the aircraft, aviation authorities have maintained that the aircraft in question belonged to and was registered in the name of Bank of Utah Trustees, Salt Lake City, USA, and only had permission to fly into Nigeria on March 27th, 2013 and depart on April, 2nd, 2013.

According to Joe Obi, Special Assistant to Aviation Minister (media), “The aircraft in question with Registration Number N565RS is currently listed on the U.S. Department of Transport (DOT), Federal Aviation Administration Registry.

The registration was issued to “BANK OF UTAH TRUSTEE” of 200 E, South Temple, Suite 210, Salt Lake City, UT 84111-1346. The registration was issued on 28 September 2012 and will expire on 30 September 2015. The registration certificate explicitly states that the aircraft registration is NOT TRANSFERABLE.

“The aircraft is currently insured with Alliance Global Risks US Insurance Company. The Certificate of Insurance is dated 28 September 2012 to expire on 12 August 2013, and it appears to have been issued with respect to a “Ferry Flight Agreement” of September 2012.”

However, the Rivers State Commissioner for Information, Ibim Semenitari, in a television interview said the River State government has filed all the necessary papers to the aviation authorities who are aware that the aircraft belongs to the River State Government.

She said, “We are a responsible government; we cannot disobey procedures because we are part of government. The Bank of Utah is known to handle trusteeship for aircraft. Rivers State Government is the trustor and the entire necessary documents are with the regulatory agencies. All the agencies are aware that the aircraft belongs to Rivers state government.

“The facts are that the rivers state government has filed the entire necessary document with all the relevant agencies. The pilot did file all the relevant papers when he landed at Akure Airport”, she further said.

An official of NCAA who spoke under anonymity explained what it takes to operate a charter aircraft in Nigeria. “ The regulation requires that no person may operate a civil aircraft that is eligible for registration under the laws of Nigeria unless it has been registered by its owner or operator under the provisions of the laws of Nigeria and the authority has issued a certificate of registration for that aircraft which shall be carried aboard the aircraft for all operations.

“A person who wishes to register an aircraft in Nigeria must submit an application for aircraft registration to the authority. No person may operate a civil aircraft in Nigeria unless it displays nationality and registration marks in accordance with the provisions of the regulation.”

Boost in Private Jet Ownership Private jet ownership has witnessed a boost in Nigeria in recent times. According to statistics from the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) Nigerians have in the last few years invested over N1.3 trillion to acquire private jets.

This is coming as NCAA had admitted that private jet ownership is on the increase, stating that most private jet owners prefer to register their aircraft abroad because they pay less insurance premiums and where the aircraft could easily be sold because of second hand values and ready buyers.

Filing of Manifest for Non Scheduled Flight It is against this background, especially the recorded increase in the ownership of private jets by affluent Nigerians that some analysts have wondered why it took NAMA until now to enforce the issue of submission of manifest by charter or non scheduled operators.

Though the Managing Director of NAMA, Engineer Nnamdi Udoh, explained that before now, non scheduled operators are not required to submit manifest, but the agency only started enforcing this requirement until this year. However, there have been no reports so far that an aircraft was grounded over this, until the delay of the aircraft conveying governor Amaechi in Akure.

Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), speaking with journalists in Lagos criticized NCAA and NAMA for their poor oversight on the Bombardier aircraft belonging to the Rivers State government.

“If whatever these agencies are now telling Nigeria is true to their duties and not politically motivated, then they have all failed in their responsibility and that portend danger in the management of our airspace and the air traffic control services”, said Ojikutu.

On the issue of submitting manifest, he said it was not the responsibility of the airspace agency to demand such, adding that it was the responsibility of the State Security Service (SSS) and the Nigerian Immigration Service (in terms of charter flights outside the country) to demand for the manifest before clearance is granted the aircraft.

NCAA’s Role This further brings into focus the role of the regulatory authority with regards to the operational permit of the aircraft. Where was NCAA when the aircraft papers expired? Could it be that the vacant seat of a Director General for the apex regulatory authority is taking its toll on the agency’s functions, as issues pertaining to the proper monitoring and regulation of the industry a appear to be suffering while the National Assembly takes its time to carry out its oversight on the appointment of a new director general for the agency.

According to the Congress of Aviation Unions and Professional Associations (CAUPA) Convener, Engineer Sheri Kyari, the delay in appointing a new director general for NCAA, has stagnated the agency’s role in the industry. “This is not good for safety and standards. We call on the National Assembly to expedite the process and allow the organization to move on”.

Further speaking on the role of the agency’s over the issue, Ojikutu said, “For whatever reasons, where were the various aviation agencies now crying wolf when the aircraft left Port-Harcourt? Did the aircraft leave Port Harcourt without filing a flight plan or was the aircraft not given Air Traffic Control clearance between Port Harcourt and Akure?”

Conclusion With the current trend of events where different issues pertaining to the grounding of the aircraft now surface on a daily basis, it appears that it will take a while before the dust will settle on this issue. While some critics have maintained that the government has meshed the issues with political intrigues, aviation agencies have maintained that there is no politics involved over their action with regards to the controversial aircraft.

It is the believe of many that as the Federal Ministry of Aviation, the National Assembly and the Peoples Democratic Party of Nigeria embark on their separate investigations into the issue, maybe then based on their findings, Nigerians will have the true knowledge of issues regarding to the grounding of the aircraft. But for now, everyone is entitled to his views or opinions.

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