Executive Jets Services saga of flying Naira Marley has exposed how airlines, especially private jet operators, cut corners, ineffectiveness of the system amid COVID-19. WOLE Shadare writes
Abuse of ministerial approvals
The controversy that trailed the movement of lewd musician, Azzeez Fashola, popularly known as Naira Marley, his lascivious behavior and action of Chairman of Executive Jets Services, Dr. Sam Iwuajoku, have again brought to the fore the abuse of approvals given by the Minister of Aviation for the conduct of humanitarian or essential services while managing COVID-19 crisis.
Despite the restriction, first imposed on March 21, 2020, some commercial and majorly private carriers have continued to ferry passengers that have nothing to do with essential services. They have continued under the guise of ‘essential’ services to engage in clandestine commercial operations.
Obscene fare advertisement
Stakeholders are curious that at a critical stage of COVID-19 transmission, some private airlines, particularly private jet operators, brazenly advertised fares ranging from $7, 000 to $9000 per person to London, United Arab Arab Emirates (UAE) and to Europe at a time scheduled flights are grounded, thereby short changing law abiding and loss making commercial airliners.
The obscenity of advertisement of such fares tends to poke fingers in the eyes of the authorities and raise concern on how they were able to get approval for operations of clear cut scheduled chartered flights.
Quarantine, test measures
Given all the international flights they are doing, it is doubtful and impossible they are quarantining their passengers or sight their COVID-19 negative certificates before embarking on illegal flight services.
Not a few have questioned the modalities for the screening of evacuees for Coronavirus on or before they are lumped into aircraft to their various countries.
Just last week, the Federal Government suspended Executive Jets Services for flying Marley contrary to the approval it was granted.
The musician was flown from Lagos to Abuja by the airline despite COVID-19 restrictions after approval of aviation authorities.
Federal Government explained the flight was meant to fly in Hon. Justice Adefope Okojie from Lagos to Abuja and back to Lagos and not the musician.
The musician featured and entertained fun-seekers at the Jabi Lake Mall in Abuja over the weekend
Speaking at the briefing by members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, announced suspension of the operation of Executive Jets Service indefinitely for the infraction.
The minister also said the captain, who operated the flight, would be sanctioned for misleading the control tower.
Sirika said: “Well, we approved a flight but certainly not for any musician. The flight, from the application, was to convey Justice Adefope Okojie from Lagos to Abuja and back to Lagos for an official assignment.
“The approval was given for June 14, 2020, however, we do give them a leeway of 24 hours sometimes due to operational reasons.
“They can operate the flight slightly earlier or slightly forward within 24 hours. In this case, the operator chose to fly on June 13th at about 6:00 pm. So, that itself is not a violation to operate earlier because we gave him the leeway
“The operator is Executive Jets Services and the approval was very clear and I will read part of it. This is the letter from the ministry of Aviation to the Chairman of the Executive Jets Services and it was signed by the Director of Air Transport Management on my behalf.”
On the suspension of the company, Sirika said the operation was a clear violation of the ministry’s approval to which they take very seriously, regretting that that it seems to be a norm.
It is becoming a new normal for Iwuajoku’s Executive Jet to flout simple order guiding airlift of people or services considered to be essential.
His airline was fingered in the illegal operation of Flair Jet, which engaged in commercial operations into Nigeria, a clear violation of the content of the approval granted it.
On May 17, 2020, Sirika announced the seizure of an aircraft belonging to Fair Aviation, a United Kingdom-based aviation, for operating commercial flights contrary to the approval it got for humanitarian operations.
Penultimate week, Executive Jet was equally involved in a breach of approval given to airlift a woman under serious condition. The woman could not travel again with the original plan as she decided to join another flight.
A visibly angry Sirika had said: ‘’Flair Aviation, a UK company, was given approval for humanitarian operations but regrettably, we caught them conducting commercial flights. This is callous! The craft is impounded, the crew being interrogated. There shall be a maximum penalty.’
Iwuajoku had since apologized to the minister, saying, “on Saturday morning, June 13, 2020 my staff called and told me that they have a charter flight to Abuja and that the passengers were already at the lounge. As a rule, passenger manifest is always sent to me before any departure. When I went through the manifest and I saw Fashola Babatunde, I thought it was the Minister of Works going to Abuja with his men, so we decided to do the flight, since he is serving Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
New Telegraph learnt that the operators of the flight should as a matter of protocol get back to the minister for the cancellation of the approval but decided to allegedly use same approval to airlift other people not connected with the approval or essential service under which the approval was sought and given.
An aviation expert, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said a different approach was in place in South Africa where the airspace is ‘closed’ with the turning back of flights even when they are ‘authorized’.
Many operators including wealthy Nigerians are hiding under the ‘Emergency and Humanitarian’ flight permits window granted by the Federal Government to critical flight services to violate President Muhammadu Buhari’s order to bring down the spread of the deadly virus.
Lack of monitoring
An airline operator, who declined to be mentioned, noted that the major problem was the inability of the authorities to monitor the airlines given approvals.
He said approval without monitoring of what they do with them is a clear danger to the internal security of the country, urging the government including relevant security agencies to monitor the carriers’ operations.
Aviation Consultant and a former Commandant, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Grp. Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), expressed dismay at what he described as flagrant disobedience of flight approvals granted by the minister, saying it has its own security implications.
According to him, “any special flight in the type of emergency we are in requires security clearance even if approved by the Minister of Aviation. Did the flight get such clearance? If there are breaches, the respective responsible authorities must take responsibility.
“In this period, the statutory responsibility is that of the minister. What are the procedures established for clearing special flights and who are the responsible authorities.”
The event of last week is an eye opener to how things should be done and a clarion call to tackling security vulnerability at the nation’s airports.