Airline explains illegal airlift of musicians to Abuja
• Development exposes rot in aviation, stakeholders say
Embattled local charter operator, Executive Jet, yesterday, apologised for carrying out illegal operations, saying it was tricked into the prohibited flight.
The carrier, which has been suspended indefinitely, airlifted a popular musician, Naira Marley, to a concert in Abuja.
Apparently shocked by the development and the airline’s defence, aviation stakeholders said the oddity showcases the rot and complicit nature of the aviation sector, describing such breach as a huge risk to national security.
The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Executive Jet Services Limited, Sam Iwuajoku, in a letter to the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said they were misled into an identity theft alleged against the musician, Azeez Fashola, aka Naira Marley.
Iwuajoku said the flight was to carry a Judge to Abuja last Friday, as requested and the permit was granted based on the application but unfortunately when he called the judge on Saturday morning to inform him that they had the permit, the Judge said he had reached Abuja already with a different flight that someone gave him a lift.
“So, on Saturday morning June 13, 2020, my staff called me that they have a charter flight to Abuja and that the passengers are already in 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 Honourable Minister of Works going to Abuja with his men. So, we decided to do the flight since he is a serving Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria… We are very sorry for this mistake and we promise that this would not happen again.”
Iwuajoku gave the manifest of the flight to include; Adewunmi Segun, Chinonso Opara, Fashola Babatunde, Fashola Adeshina, Adeyeye Tobi, Michael Opeyemi. Others are Idowu Emmanuel, Seyi Awonuga, Wisdom Intoto, and Abayomi Akin.
The Federal Government had on Monday, suspended Executive Jets Services for flying the musician contrary to the approval it was granted. The musician was flown from Lagos to Abuja in breach of COVID-19 restrictions.
But the 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.
Speaking at the daily briefing by members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Sirika announced the suspension of 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.
Stakeholders, however, said the event goes beyond the airline and the pilot.
Aviation expert, Amos Akpan, said the government gave approval for a special charter flight under a special dispensation and the passengers’ name were supposed to be attached to the application for the flight’s approval.
“Based on this, the approval for the charter flight was given. The flight plan filed and approved. The boarding on the aircraft was done without positive identification of the passengers by any of our security agencies at the terminal whether private or public?
“Our authority in aviation said at a public forum that this is not the first time the charter operator had committed this offence. Could it be that the reason the charter operator is now sanctioned is that the outcome of this particular operation attracted public outcry from the public concert? Or this obviously could not be swept under the carpet?
“In the end, the charter operator will be fined as stipulated by civil aviation regulation. We will move on without regards to the deeper implications. All activities in this industry are supposed to be 100 per cent regulated. Safety and security must first be put in place before any activity goes on in aviation,” he said.
Aviation security consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd.), said no unscheduled international flight or domestic flight in the type of emergency as we have now would file a flight plan without flight approved by the responsible authority.
“The controller must ensure that the flight approval accompanied the flight plan. If that is not done, not only is the procedure breached, the national security is compromised. The situation where these occur is not normal.
“There are things I did not know before now, which I still believe the controller must take responsibility for. The approval was given for a particular day or date but the flight was conducted on another date. Did the controller check that? That to me is where his own verification starts. Many things happen at MMA, which bother on the national security; the absence of normal and the presence of abnormal. It a matter of the more you look, the more you see, except you are blind.”