Opinion: Stop the bogus stories, we need more airplanes in Nigeria

by Captain Daniel Omale
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I will never forget the words of wisdom from my friend, Hon. N’allah. He said to me: “Dan, we must stay on the path of truth, no matter what.”  I have therefore, concluded that, as long as we stay within the law, we are on the path of truth.

I do not intend, in this write-up, to join issues with anyone, but to ensure that the virtue of truth is enumerated here. This is to demystify the bogus story that private jet owners are involved in the smuggling of fugitives and criminals out of Nigeria, and how private jets are also used to create insecurity in the country.

In the first place, it is an indictment on the security agents: Federal Airports Authority’s (FAAN) security, the Nigeria Customs, Immigration Services, State Security Service, and the police force. If a director of FAAN can insinuate that private jet owners, with impunity, fly fugitives out of Nigeria, it is equally incriminating if the same agency can, publicly, state that such airplanes are used to import arms into the country. The spokesperson of FAAN also indicted his organisation when he said “money is laundered through the same process”.

I find it utterly disgusting, demeaning, and irrational for a top government official, in trying to justify the huge expenditure on media to sensitize the public, can ignorantly implicate the Airports Authority in aiding and abetting crimes of this magnitude.

Another laughable assumption in the propaganda is the N25 billion fees private jet owners rob the federal government of, annually. If the statutory fee to the government is 5 per cent of revenue, it is obvious then that business jet charter industry must generate N500 billion yearly for government to receive N25 billion. If this is the case, I am wondering why anyone will not join the aircraft charter business. Airlines like Arik, Aero and IRS would have no business losing money on schedule operations, if they can share the N500 billion bounties of charter services.

For the avoidance of any doubt, Nigeria’s business aviation has invested over $3.3 billion in aircraft acquisition. It caters for less than 300 revolving clients every year. And, if all the 70-100 business jets in the country operated at near-capacity of 50 hours per aircraft per month(which is impossible), we would be looking at 60,000 hours per annum for 100 airplanes.

If the rate per hour is $7,000, that’s approximately $420m or N67 billion of gross revenue per year. It’s needless to explain maintenance and operational expenses that must be deducted from gross revenue to arrive at a margin.

Therefore, to loudly mislead the public that private jet owners short-change the government by N25 billion yearly, does not only show gross ignorance of the dynamics of the business jet market, but another form of political propaganda  to show performance/achievement.

It is also a sign of lack of knowledge that a top government official in the aviation sector could persuade the public to believe that a private jet’s occupant, who is not the owner  or family member, is not insured .

All business jets registered in Europe and America have hull, passenger, and third party insurance coverage.  Even those registered in Nigeria are equally required to carry such policies, although with much lower compensation rate.

There is a fundamental problem in Nigeria: instead of deliberating on meaningful issues and ideas that will foster economic growth and prosperity for all, those in government are consumed with politics and pettiness, all in the name of securing the scarce employment opportunities.

Another accusation that is beyond comprehension is that private jet owners contribute to insecurity by importing arms into the country. If this is correct, the security agents at the airports must be investigated to explain their roles in this visible, punishable and heinous crime. It’s interesting to note that the owners of all business jets in Nigeria are highly responsible citizens that have more to lose in an unstable polity. It is therefore unnecessary to create lies for the sake of justifying  an allusion.

A private aircraft owner, who has invested his hard-earned money in acquiring an asset for social or economic reason, should be free to enjoy his investment without a limitation — as long as he is not in violation of any applicable law. Limiting a private aircraft owner to the carriage of    his immediate family only, in itself, is a violation of his rights. This is untenable anywhere in the world. It is an abuse of power by the Ministry of Aviation.

I am not, in any way, supporting a privately owned aircraft, imported into the country under private category, to engage in commercial operation, but limiting the usage of the airplane to mere family members is an undue infringement on human freedom. Those who acquired these airplanes bought them for their own travel freedom and they have all rights to carry their business associates with them. They also have an unlimited privilege to invite anyone on board their airplane, as long as it is not for hire or reward, which is against the law.

Aviation business is open to everyone who desires to participate. We need more operators and airplanes in Nigeria — those who are ready to take risk and invest in the sector to create jobs. Government’s roles are to create enabling environment and establish safety regulations. The issue of securing, on a platter of gold, a few loyalists to operate within, and discard those who would not stand down from the truth, will not work. This country belongs to all of us, and everyone is a stakeholder.

Read this piece in Leadership


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