By Daniel Omale
The most expensive airplanes in Nigeria today belong to the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF). But, despite the huge expenses of tax payers’ money to acquire them, it has become very clear that most of these airplanes are now being used for commercial purposes; a complete contradiction to the necessity of such wasteful investments.
It is no secret these days that two of the most expensive aircraft in PAF are used by those in charge of the aircraft for charter services. The Falcon 7X, and one Bombardier 605 in the President’s feet of aircraft constantly engage in charter services at an hourly rate of $6500 and $5500 respectively. This has become possible because there are, still, many aircraft for the President, which, obviously, are under utilised.
As of today, not less than eight aircraft are under the fleet of the President, and if not utilised, the most rational thing to do is to reduce the quantity by selling them off, and use the proceeds for better investments for the nation.
The management of PAF can offer these cheap rates because no airplane in the Presidency pays for landing, parking, fuel, and navigational charges. This, in effect, is the most corrupt and abuse of office for a government airplane to constantly compete in commercial operation with those licensed to engage in hire- for -money operation.
The various air charter companies in the nation pay, on daily basis, fees to the Federal Airports Authority (FAAN), the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), and other statutory fees to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). If those flying the President’s airplanes wish to engage in commercial operation, they are welcome to do so; but they must obtain the necessary air operating permits in accordance with the law, and additionally, pay bills to the relevant agencies. It is an unfair competition if the Presidential airplanes are used for commercial purposes with tax -payers’ money, free of bills, and some individuals, somewhere, pocket the revenues for personal use. Governors and politicians are their favourite clients to obscure the clandestine business of hire for money—a clear violations of the application air regulations, the reason for the aircraft, and an uncontrolled greed within the system.
I am very sure, the directive to engage some of the President’s aircraft in commercial operation did not emanate from Mr. President, but a few unscrupulous, money -hungry pilots in the fleet, wishing for quick cash for themselves. It is totally wrong, illegal, and abuse of privileges for those destroying the good name of PAF has had over the years.
During President Jonathan Goodluck’s administration, the Presidency went on aircraft Purchase spree, with two new Falcon 7X (unit price of N16 billion) and one Gulfstream 550 (priced N18 billion). There is no amount of charter services that will generate a quarter of the cost price of each airplane, except to feed the very few crew authorized to operate the aircraft.
Nigeria’s Presidency has one of the largest number of aircraft in its fleet in the world, an unnecessary expenditure for a battered economy.
Russia can be forgiven for a large number of airplanes designated for its political leaders because all the aircraft in the fleet are produced and maintained by the state- owned aircraft manufacturing company. In Nigeria, the remaining eight aircraft are imported, and maintained abroad.
It is virtually inconceivable to note that the Presidential air fleet (PAF) is also the second largest carrier in Nigeria after Arik Air with 26, but with only four operational aircraft.
Even the oil rich Saudi Arabia has far less number of airplanes in its kingdom, for its leader, than Nigeria. The United States, Germany, France and other developed nations have less than five designated aircraft respectively. The Prime minister of the United Kingdom does not have a fleet of aircraft for her use. The Norwegian Prime Minister came to Nigeria about last year on a British Airways flight. The former French President, François Hollande, rendered public apology to his nation for using the Presidential aircraft with his children for a trip to watch football game in Germany. This public accountability in western world is unprecedented. It is what we need in our country.
Two years ago, the news that President Mohammed Buhari (PMB) had ordered the reduction of the number of the aircraft in the President’s fleet was greeted with relief and enthusiasm. For some unknown reason, there seems to be a lag in the decision, forgetting that for each day that this nation is saddled with the airplanes, millions of Naira will go down the drain, into private pockets.
Nigeria has a culture of wasting public resource. The monthly expenditure on the aircraft in the Presidency is about N1billion. This gigantic waste is not only expensive for a country currently in a deep economic recession, but absolutely an unnecessary perk.
Four years ago, the National Emergency Management Agency(NEMA), in the name of medical evacuation, bought a Cessna Sovereign for over $8m (about N2.4 billion).
The airplane was, instead, used for executive movements and charter services. It would have been easier if any rational person in the past government ever thought of transferring one of the many airplanes in PAF to NEMA. But, obviously, those acquiring airplane for NEMA would have lost huge commissions from the purchase deal.
The Nigerian Customs Services bought a Cessna CJ3 three years ago, again, for executive movement. A transfer of an aircraft from PAF to the Nigerian Customs Services would have saved the N1.6 billion wasted to acquire the Cessna.
While our politicians and bureaucrats see very little of the financial damage inflicted on the economy as a result of these senseless spending, the resultant effect, today, is the negative state of Nigeria’s treasury.
How do we rationalize the huge expenditures on aircraft for the President? What is today’s residual value of each of them, compared to the purchase prices?
One fundamental truth about aircraft is that whether it is being flown or simply parked, it attracts huge expenses. Keeping such a large number of aircraft is as wasteful as throwing money into the ocean. President Mohammed Buhari (PMB) does not need more than two serviceable aircraft for routine and schedule trips.
The colossal wastes of public funds associated with aircraft purchases for the various government agencies, aircraft that were never utilised, beat my sense of reasoning.
If any of airplanes in the Presidential Air Fleet must be used for commercial services, it is necessary for those in charge to operate within the applicable air regulation, and pay the required bills like those licensed to do so.