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Air charter under threat, say operators

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Aviation is fast becoming good business in Nigeria, with private /chartered jets outnumbering the planes in commercial airlines’ fleet. However, operators fear that the attention on the business from the larger society, government patronage and its attendant criticisms may spell doom for its growth, reports KELVIN OSA OKUNBOR. There is growing discontent among a section of the citizenry over the use of chartered/private jets. The development is a fallout of accusations against some senior government officials, not the least the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, who allegedly spent N10billion for over three years, on charter services offered by some private airline operators.

The share size of the bill, in a sense, is an indication that  business aviation is indeed,  worthy of venturing into in the aviation sector. The challenge, according to operators, is not  about the business survivability,  but the negative image its  detractors are associating it with; a trend they say, might sound the death knell to an otherwise lucrative and desirable enterprise. Despite the probe by the lawmakers, business aviation in Nigeria is fast gaining ground, as operators of business / private  jets continue to experience increasing patronage from both domestic and international shuttles. According to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) statistics, the number of private / chartered jets in Nigeria stands at over 150. Besides, the NCAA, according to its Acting Director-General, Benedict Adeyileka, continues to receive requests for permits and licenses by more operators, who are poised at bringing jets into the country. The aviation sector regulator, he said, has set up the Directorate of General Aviation to tend to issues affecting business aviation given its expansion in the country. He explained that the Directorate would oversee safety issues, operations and personnel that will be involved in business aviation in Nigeria.

As the number of private jets are increasing in Nigeria, more aircraft manufacturers are establishing their presence in the with the setting up of maintenance and repair centres in Lagos, Kaduna, Abuja and Port Harcourt. Not long ago, a private Hangar and terminal operator, Evergreen Apple Nigeria (EAN), organised the second Nigerian Business Aviation Conference (NBAC) in Lagos. It was attended by over 160 delegates including industry experts to discuss the nation’s aviation business.

The forum examined the development, growth, challenges, government support and other issues affecting business aviation.According to EAN Managing Director  and NBAC convener, Segun Demuren, the forum  was designed to provide a platform for analysing and reviewing Nigerian Business Aviation and stimulating discussion on what is needed to support  business aviation  in Nigeria. Stating some facts about the aviation industry, Demuren said: “Nigeria is now Africa’s fastest growing Business Aviation economy with more new and pre-owned aircraft delivered to the country, than South Africa last year. The country’s private jet fleet is larger than the commercial fleet.  Growth has been driven predominantly by the oil and gas industry. However, other sectors including finance, manufactu-ring, telecommunication and agriculture are all contributing to a market which is set to grow by 20 per cent this year”.

He said  150 private jets are operating in the country with an anticipated increase of 350 by 2016. According to Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) Chairman, Capt. Nogie Meggison, the poor transport logistics within the country is the reason why people charter private jets. This, he said, has continued to stimulate  the growth of business aviation. Poor road network, limited domestic airline fleet and train network, he said, meant that executive jets have provided the solution to logistics challenges in the country. According to him, “the time saving, the convenience and the increased productivity that follows, means that business aviation is not a luxury, but an essential tool for growth in Nigeria.” He argued that the Federal Government, while supporting expansion,  has removed import duties on new jets by signing the Cape Town convention. The convention reassures lessors about asset security. There are other issues such as investments  in new infrastructure, which  include private jet terminal, which does not impose time restriction on  foreign registered private jets stay on Nigerian soil.

Meggison said while these are stimulating growth, improved regulations, comprehensive Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) offerings, the implementation of structured Safety Management Systems (SMS) and local participation are necessary for success to be achieved in the sector. But, some Nigerians feel chartering of private jet by public officials is immoral, considering the high level of poverty in the country. The amount expended on the use and maintenance of such jets, they argued, could tend to some needs of the masses. According to  Adeniyi Kolawole, Secretary, Concerned Citizens of Nigeria  “Some of the most modern jets are owned by either serving or retired public officials. “Something is wrong with our value system. It is sad that this is happening in a country where more than 70 per cent of the people live below poverty line.” He added: “But that is not all, several Nigerians, especially those in public offices, have equally resorted to hiring of private jets for regular trips within Nigeria and around the world, often at astounding costs to the country. According to findings by Transparency Action Group, those who regularly hire private jets include the private sector and government officials. According to observers if the House must probe the oil minister, the probe must be extended to all government officials, who are using public money to take chartered flights instead of going on scheduled commercial flights.



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