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Private jet operations boom on elections, insecurity

More charter and private jet companies are springing up in Nigeria over rising insecurity and election campaigns, BusinessDay’s findings show.

With the general elections holding in less than 16 months, politicians are already booking charter jets to fly them from one location to the other to carry out campaigns.

“High net-worth people now book private or charter jets to local destinations as a result of rising insecurity. With elections around the corner, aspirants are moving from one destination to another using charter jets,” Tayo Ojuri, industry expert/CEO, Aglow Limited, an aviation support service, told BusinessDay.

According to Ojuri, these factors are leading to the rise of more private jet companies in Nigeria.

A source close to the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), who craved anonymity, told BusinessDay that the number of private jets and charter aircraft increased to over 160 from 90 in 2017 to 2019, showing a 70 percent increase.

Experts say the figures may have increased with the influx of operators into this space.

Corporate bodies and businesses are opting for charter jets to attend business meetings and conferences over rising cases of insecurity.

Experts also say the depleting health infrastructure in Nigeria is forcing those who can afford services of private jets to opt for this, thereby increasing outbound health tourism.

Channelled towards handling the challenges that come with the end-to-end movement of humans and cargo, Vetifly, months ago, commenced its on-demand mobility services in Lagos and across the country via a combination of helicopters and other modes of transport to save users of its service up to 80 percent of their typical travel time.

Vetifly developed a service that enables Nigerians to combine different modes of transportation – air, water, land – in such a way that users can save up to 80 percent of their typical travel time while travelling in style.

Read also: How credible Anambra, Ekiti, and Osun guber polls will affect 2023 election

Few weeks ago, Avantefly, a new private charter luxury, tech and travel company launched in Nigeria in a bid to create easy access to a vast array of assets from private jets, helicopters, hotels and executive space bookings, among others.

This exclusive real time digital platform promises to redefine the way clients access private aviation, making it more convenient and transparent with a new mobile application for luxury travel, services, and goods globally.

Nigeria’s indigenous airline, Air Peace, within a space of one year acquired six 50-seater Embraer 145 jets, which it currently uses for both charter and commercial operations. The airline also owns one Dornier private jet, specifically for charter operations.

BusinessDay’s checks show that the cost of flying a business jet that shuttles the Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt route costs between N2 million and N3 million. This shows that for an average of 15 people on a charter flight each person would pay between N133,000 and N200,000 (this may be more or less depending on the number of passengers), while on a commercial airline, it costs between N30,000 and N40,000 for a seat.

John Ojikutu, member of aviation industry think tank group, Aviation Round Table (ART) and chief executive of Centurion Securities, says some people who own private jets but do not have licence to operate are giving those with licence their aircraft as elections approach.

As electioneering campaigns are getting to high level, chartered flights are expected to be increasing in numbers too, possibly higher than they had been in the last two years, Ojikutu states.

He notes that private aircraft operators not licensed for charter are most likely to cash in into the electioneering campaign season to make quick money at the expense of the licensed operators and NCAA.

David Augustine, CEO and chief pilot of Ezuma Jets, says the country has not scratched the surface of luxury travel as there is much yet to achieve because of the huge untapped potential of luxury travel in Nigeria.

According to Augustine, during the lockdown, a lot of people flew private jets to other countries as commercial flights were not operating, and COVID-19 has made some still prefer flying private jets because of health reasons, as they feel safer.

“Nigeria has one of the biggest private jet markets in the world. We need more players in this sector. Nigerians love class, know class and appreciate class,” he states.

He however says private jet operators need support from the government with aircraft maintenance facilities and implementing policies that reduce cumbersome access to licences and Air Operating Certificates (AOCs).

Seeing the influx of private jet operators, the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) recently invited owners of private aircrafts in Nigeria to come forward with their relevant importation clearance documents for verification.

At the exercise, operators were requested to provide aircraft certificate of registration, NCAA’s Flight Operations Compliance Certificate (FOCC), NCAA’s Maintenance Compliance Certificate (MCC), NCAA’s Permit for Non-Commercial Flights (PNCF) and temporary Import Permit (TIP) (where applicable).

Joseph Attah, public relations officer, CEMA, disclosed that within the stipulated period, 86 private jets/aircraft operators showed up for the exercise and presented the relevant documents for verification. Of this number, 57 were verified as commercial charter operators, and were duly cleared for operations.

Twenty-nine others were found liable for payment of Customs duty. Their values were assessed and the appropriate demand notices issued to their owners for the payment of outstanding duties.

However, 62 others whose registration numbers were duly obtained from the appropriate authority were not verified because their owners or designated representatives made no presentations to Customs that could help determine their status, he said.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that since Nigeria lifted the lockdown on economic activities due to the coronavirus pandemic last year, transport by road has declined.

Rising insecurity is showing up in local trade statistics as the sector contracted 2.43 percent in the first three months of 2021, making it the eighth consecutive quarterly contraction since the second quarter of 2019.

The quarterly Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimates for the four quarters of 2020, the annual figure for 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 released by the NBS show a decline of -23.75 percent in road transport GDP in the first quarter of 2021 from the previous quarter.

Contrast this by a drop of -51.17 percent in the second quarter of 2020, when the government announced a ban on all travels in the country. Road transport moderated slightly to -46.64 percent in the third quarter, then it rose to -1.37 percent and by the fourth quarter of 2020 only to enter abnormal territory, falling sharply to -23.75 percent.

Analysts attribute this dip to the impact of pervasive insecurity in the country marked by violent kidnappings, robberies and banditry across major highways.

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