• Monday, December 11, 2023
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Explainer: How private jet operators operate ‘illegally’ as commercial

Explainer: How private jet operators operate ‘illegally’ as commercial

On Friday night, Adebayo Adelabu, the Minister of Power, 12 other passengers and flight crew narrowly escaped a tragic fate as their HS 125 aircraft, bearing nationality and registration marks 5N-AMM, operated by Flint Aero, crashed short of the runway in Ibadan, Oyo State airport.

The Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau, NSIB, has immediately commenced an inquest.

James Odaudu, Director, Public Affairs and Consumer Protection, NSIB in a statement on Saturday said there was no fatality, as all passengers and crew were safely evacuated.

The investigating agency, has since solicited for assistance of members of the public with the help of any video clip, relevant evidence, relating to the accident that can assist it with this investigation.

“The Bureau will appreciate that the general public and press respect the privacy of the people involved and not assume the cause of the serious incident until formal report is released.
The Bureau will release the preliminary report as soon as possible,” Odaudu added.

David Hundeyin, a renowned independent journalist via his X (formerly Twitter) account had called out the operator of the aircraft.

According to him, the Hawker 800XP aircraft with the tail identifier 5N-AMM and serial number 258286 that crash landed in Ibadan with the Minister of Power onboard is operating illegally in Nigeria with the full knowledge and participation of the NCAA.

This aircraft, according to Hundeyin has no permission to operate commercial charter flights as it is registered under a Permit for Non-Commercial Flights (PNCF).

This is the permit given to private non-commercial aircraft, and it is cheaper and easier to obtain than a commercial Air Operator Certificate (AOC), because the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) rules for private aircraft operation are less stringent than those for commercial aircraft, he alleged.

Flints Aero Service, the company which operates it, is also operating multiple aircraft under PNCF permission and using them to carry out commercial charter flights. Some of these aircraft include the Hawker 800XP with the tail identifier 5N-ALG and another Hawker 800XP with the tail identifier 5N-AMK, Hundeyin stated.

Read also: Safety Bureau commence into Flint Aero aircraft accident

“PNCF holders don’t have to pay the five percent regulatory fees that AOC holders are required to, and the regulatory requirements for pilot training, ground staff training and aircraft maintenance are also less strident because PNCF aircraft are not under any circumstances supposed to carry paying passengers. Senior NCAA personnel (you know yourselves) take a cut of the revenues from these illegal commercial flight operations to keep this whole scam going.

“Now a sitting cabinet minister who may or may not know about all this has almost died in an accident on an illegal, unlicensed commercial flight run by his fellow “elite” who was willing to risk his life to save some money, and was enabled by top ranking NCAA staff who will inevitably try to cover this up by hanging the blame entirely on Flints Aero Service,” Hundeyin added.

It is important to understand that most private jet owners under law have the right to lease out their aircraft to commercial aircraft operator.

Many private owners of aircraft don’t have the capacity to manage these aircraft all year long and parking these aircraft till they need them to move around is not profitable, as aircraft are meant to be flown and not be on ground.

So what private jet owners do is give these aircraft to commercial aircraft operator who then help them operate the aircraft as commercial operators.

So, if Aero Flint has the license to operate commercial flight but the private aircraft owner doesn’t. This in aviation is not illegal.

However, if Aero Flint do not have certificate to carry out commercial flight operations, and yet used the aircraft for commercial purpose (and was paid for the service) then it is illegal.

A source who is informed on the matter told BusinessDay that the airline is a private jet operator but, before anyone can say they committed an offence, the person must be able to establish that the aircraft was operated for hire and reward.

“If this is established, then, it’s an offence, but if not, the company has not committed any offence, unless the minister confirmed he paid for it or someone else paid on his behalf,” the source added.

In 2021, the NCAA apprehended some private jet operators for sanction, following their incursion into commercial operations without the mandatory licences.

The operators are said to be in clear violation of Part of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations 2015.

It stated: “Air Transport License (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.”

Illegal activities of some private jet operators in commercial charter services have become a dominant complaint lately.

Musa Nuhu, the director general of NCAA had in 2021 said that private operators are required to file monthly reports on the number of flights conducted and with passenger manifest for the NCAA to look and determine if they are on illegal charter operations.

Read also: Flint Aero aircraft overshoots runway at Ibadan airport

Ibrahim Mshelia, owner of West Link Airlines Nigeria and Mish Aviation Flying School however confirmed to BusinessDay that several PNCF operators in Nigeria operate illegally as commercial operators.

“I have always complained that people who are operating PNCF are actually doing charter and taking business away airline operators. A lot of these people bring in aircraft for private use and the NCAA cannot deny them. If there are 100 people to put in their application and they qualify based on requirement, the NCAA will grant them. But the operators are behaving like Nigerians and I know that they collect money for it.

“I am in the industry, I have complained and no one listens. You cannot blame the NCAA because the NCAA must issue you every paper you apply for when you qualify. They cannot assume that it will be used for commercial. But the Nigerian people, when they get these papers, instead of using the airplanes privately, they give it to brokers who now sell tickets and carry passengers,” Mshelia disclosed.

Mshelia alleged that some private jet operators operate from Lagos to other states three to four times daily, adding that with this frequency, it shows that this is no longer private jet operations.

He however challenged the minister of aviation to set up a committee and include the Department of State Services (DSS), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, (NAMA) and NCAA, and submit the report to the president.

He assured that after the investigations, the president will realise that a lot of private operators operate illegally as commercial airline operators.

“I had a chance to do this but I chose not to because it is against the law, it short chages the government of tax revenue and once you short change the government of tax revenue, you are shortchanging the Nigerian people.

“The statistics of flying hours for private operators in developed countries are between 200 to 400 hours annually but in Nigeria in three months, private jet operators fly 200 hours. In six months they would have flown up to 400 hours.

We need to investigate this. Not everyone can afford jets to travel often. Private jets are for the rich, especially people in government and the national assembly and that is why if they want to put an end to this, they must put people who will give results without taking bribe in charge,” Mshelia said.