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NIGERIA: Kudos, Knocks for the New Civil Aviation Policy

Industry stakeholders have severely criticised the new Nigerian Civil Aviation Policy unveiled last week by the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah and notes that the policy is suffering from the political heat pervading the country now

Aviation industry critics, operators and observers have been reacting to the 2013 Nigerian Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP) unveiled in Abuja last week by the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah. While many parts of the policy seemed to be in tandem with people’s expectations, contentious areas seem to be the new policy on private aircraft operation and the new responsibility of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) on flight manifest: the agency must have the manifest of aircraft operating in the nation’s airspace.

Many industry observers said that the policy was unveiled at a wrong time. It came at a time the federal  government  is having a running controversy with the Rivers state governor, Chibuike Amaechi over the operation of the state government aircraft. So it seems that the policy on private jet operation was tailored to witch hunt him.

Contentious Issues
The contentious part of the policy that has received so much umbrage stated:  “For private aircraft owned or leased by individuals, only the family members of the owner / lessee of the aircraft will be permitted on board as passengers. For private aircraft owned or leased by companies or corporate entities only the employees and members of the Board of Directors of the company will be permitted on board as passengers.
For aircraft belonging to non-scheduled or scheduled operators, only the employees and members of the Board of Directors of the company or the corporation may be permitted on board as passengers.

“All operators will declare the identities of all passengers on non- revenue charter flights in the appropriate General Declaration Forms prior to obtaining ATC clearance.
Nigerian carriers operating international non-scheduled flights will comply with the following: a) “For private aircraft owned or leased by individuals, only the family members of the owner / lessee of the aircraft will be permitted on board as passengers. b) For private aircraft owned or leased by companies or corporate entities only the employees and members of the Board of Directors of the
Company will be permitted on board as passengers. c) For aircraft belonging to non-scheduled or scheduled operators, only the employees and members of the Board of Directors of the company or the corporation may be permitted on board as passengers. d) All operators will declare the identities of all passengers on non-revenue charter flights in the appropriate General Declaration Forms prior to obtaining ATC clearance.”
Many observers in the aviation industry see these conditions as draconian and a knee-jack reaction to the political battle between the federal  government and the Rivers state government over the controversial private jet acquired and operated by later, which was recently grounded by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.

Roadblock Mentality
Aviation security expert and former commander of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos (MMIA), Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), frowned on the new rule whereby pilots should declare their manifest to NAMA, saying: “Asking NAMA to demand  passenger manifest is to bring the roadblock mentality with all manners of security checks. What then will be the job of the SSS (State Security Service) and Nigerian Immigration Service at the airports? Is that not another conflict of interest on agencies function?”

He also said  requesting that private jet operators should not carry friends or relations might require that "all passengers on such aircraft, including the owners too may have to carry their international or birth certificate or marriage certificate to be able to distinguish them from unrelated passengers. What a calamity for a supposedly Category One regulated industry!”
This law is meant to check those who have private jets with private operation licence that use their aircraft for commercial purposes, but Ojikutu suggested that government should put notice at all the airports in the country, including offices, boarding gates, notifying such passengers that they would not be eligible to any compensation as provided by the Warsaw Convention.

Many in the industry consider that putting such notice would be ineffective because many of those passengers know that they travel by private jets, including state governors, senators and other highly placed individuals in the country. Those who operate commercial charter and who have commercial operation licence for charter have lost their businesses to the private jet owners. Yet they pay five per cent charge to the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and five per cent VAT to the Federal Government on every operation, while the private jet owners pay nothing.

Deterrent Policy
Reacting to the new policy, former Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) captain, Tito Omaghomi said that what the policy makers were saying was that  they don’t want the privilege given to private aircraft owners to be abused.
Omaghomi explained that what the Federal Government wanted to ensure that anybody on board a private jet must be accounted for, arguing that there have been situations where people have used their private jets for purposes other than what they are  not meant for .
The former NAL pilot also argued that there have also been situations where people use private jets to threaten the security of their country, adding that to forestall any security breach using private jets, the decided to bring out such policy.
“We have heard how private jets have been used in the past to ferry out people wanted by the government from the country and how private jets are now being use to ferry passengers from one point to the other like a commercial aircraft. To ensure that private jets owners use their jets for the operation they are meant for, the government decided to enact a policy in that respect and in the interest of the country,” he said.
In response to the criticisms attracted by the new policy, the ministry of aviation on Monday issued a statement noting that it is a common knowledge that in the past, some private jet owners in the country, “cashing in on the absence of regulation, were in fact, using their aircraft for commercial purposes without the necessary certification as scheduled charter flight operators.
“Worldwide, persons intending to conduct only private operations with their private jets must be wary of any condition that might result in revenue generating operations. This is not the case here in Nigeria where some private jet owners, without due certification for commercial operations, surreptitiously lease their equipment to ’friends’ for profits without actually declaring so.”
The ministry said that the new aviation policy was "geared toward restoring sanity in the sector and bringing operations of both scheduled and non-scheduled flight operations to international standard and best practice. This government will not be distracted from this. Insinuations that the policy is undemocratic, draconian and impracticable are untrue and reductionist.”

Conflict with Civil Aviation Act
Another industry expert and seasoned pilot told THISDAY on Tuesday that parts of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Policy conflict with the 2006 Civil Aviation Act and criticised the part of the policy that states that the ministry of aviation overlooks the NCAA and observed that the regulatory body must be autonomous.

The pilot however said that 90 per cent of the policy is good, except the areas that contradict with the Act, suggesting that those areas that contradict with the Act should be removed from the policy, adding that policy is a mere guide; that it should not conflict with “the Act of Parliament that was assented to by the President.”

On the part of the policy that concern the operation of private jets in Nigeria, the pilot said that the issue is being politicised, noting that there should be a clear cut rule between private aircraft operators and the ones that operate for commercial purposes, remarking that the law demarcating the two should be enshrined in the Act, not contained in the policy.

“The NCAA should come hard on the private aircraft operators who use their airplanes for commercial purposes and when such law is breached the aircraft should be grounded to teach a lesson to those who dare disobey that law. Why is it that they cannot go to America and do that? This is because there is a severe law against that in the US. The law says that you cannot operate private aircraft for higher or reward. It did not say that you cannot carry your friends or relations but such aircraft should not be operated for hire or for reward. Here people give out their airplanes to their friends and they use it for charter. NCAA should ensure that such operation is stopped by permanently grounding that aircraft. I know that such illegal operation is rampant. They operate like kabu-kabu. It is the regulatory body that allowed that over the years.”

Policy Somersault
An operator in the industry, the Managing Director of Berbedos Aviation Services Limited, Mohammed Wali, told THISDAY on Tuesday that the 2013 Nigerian Civil Aviation Policy is full of policy somersault. He was particularly critical of the part that said that a foreign registered aircraft cannot stay more than 15 days in the country, saying that this policy would be adverse to the growth of the aviation industry.
Wali said that government may have decided to use the law to force private jet owners to register their aircraft locally, noting that although it is true that not up to 10 per cent of private jets that operate in Nigeria are registered locally, the reason why many of the aircraft are foreign registered is because of insurance.

He said that aircraft that were registered locally pay more for insurance than those registered overseas and financial institutions insist most of the time that the aircraft must be registered overseas when they offer credit facility for the acquisition of such aircraft.
Wali, who is managing many private aircraft , said government should first ensure that aircraft registered in Nigeria did not demand higher insurance payment than the ones registered in the US, Europe or South Africa. " It is after this is achieved that it can now insist that aircraft should be registered locally."
According to him, this would discourage many Nigerians from acquiring more private jets in the country and many jobs will be lost because even those already operating that are registered overseas would have to leave the country.

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