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Much ado about presidential aircraft

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A presidential aircraft with othersi

A presidential aircraft with othersi

A cacophony of voices recently greeted the announcement for the sale of two aircraft in the fleet of the presidency. Hitherto, the fleet had held as many as 10 airplanes, and President Muhammadu  Buhari has been criticised for maintaining  the large fleet.
 
Many Nigerians have described the presidency’s decision to dispose of the two aircraft from the 10 as a welcome development,  especially as the country suffers from its worst economic crisis in years.
 
Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, following a newspaper advertisements for the sale of the two Presidential aircraft, a Falcon 7x executive jet and Hawker  4000 recently, said the sale was duly authorised by the Presidency.He gave an indication that it would run as auctions, in a bid to maximise the money from the sale.
 
This, he said, is in line with the directive of the President that aircraft in the Presidential air fleet be reduced to cut down on waste.The spokesman said Buhari was elected president last year on a commitment to crack down on the country’s systemic corruption, hence downsizing the outlandish presidential fleet had been among his campaign pledges.
 
“When he campaigned to be President, the then APC candidate Muhammadu  Buhari, if you recall, promised to look at the presidential air fleet  with a view to cutting down on waste.
 
“His directive to a government committee on this assignment is that he liked to see a compact and reliable aircraft for the safe airlift of  the President, the Vice President and other government officials that  go on special missions.”
 
Sources at the presidency revealed that out of the 10 aircraft currently in the fleet, only the Boeing  Business Jet (Boeing 737-800 or AirForce One), is exclusively for the  President.
   
Buhari uses the aircraft for his local and foreign trips in company with a few presidential aides and top government officials  designated to join him for such trips.
 
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo is also entitled to an aircraft in the  fleet which he uses for his local and foreign trips.The wives of the two leaders -Aisha Buhari and Dolapo Osinbajo-also  use aircraft in the fleet. Others who fly aircraft in the fleet are  the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; and the Speaker of the  House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.
 
Apart from these top government officials, the nation’s former Heads  of State or former Presidents are entitled to use aircraft in the  fleet on request, especially when they are on national or  international assignments.
 
Aircraft from the fleet can also be made available to any government  officials that are on national assignment for the President.This perhaps accounts for the fleet size, which currently include one Boeing 737-800 or  AirForce One; one Gulfstream 550; one Gulfstream V (Gulfstream 500);  two Falcons 7X; one Hawker Sidley 4000; two Agusta Westland AW 139  helicopters and two AgustaWestland AW 101 helicopters.
 
While some have continued to highlight the need for the presidential aircraft, a lot more, even in government circle, have been more critical. This is for reasons not unconnected with the humongous sum required to maintain the jets amidst current economic recession and attendant effect even on the aviation sector.
 
Outspoken member of the Senate, Ben Murray Bruce, recently advised the Federal Government to consider the option of wet-leasing some of the 10 aircraft on the presidential fleet, as part of cost-saving measures in the light of current economic realities.
 
Bruce, who is the chairman, House Committee on Privatisation, said with domestic airlines more are risk of closing down, the ability to move from one part of the nation to another on short notice is already being impeded. And “If all our airlines close or move to neighbouring countries, even among those in the arm of government, not all those officials can fly in a presidential jet. Even if government officials get private jets, what about their families and friends?”
 
“The alarming rate airlines are either failing or leaving Nigeria must be halted. If people cannot move from point a to b quickly, businesses will suffer, economy will not improve and the recession will last longer. 
 
“This is an emergency. I urge the government to take firm action to save our aviation industry. Help them with soft loan, reduce their taxes, government officials should patronise local airlines rather than foreign airlines and help them secure insurance,” he offered.
 
The lawmaker added that the current situation where presidential air fleet has 10 jets, which means more aircrafts than any airline except Arik Air, does not make any economic sense, especially at a time of recession.
 
“It is sad that domestically, 180milion people have less than 35 planes serving them and less than a thousand people have 11 airplane at their disposal. Maybe the government can lease one or two of these planes on wet-lease basis to the private sector. I’m not asking too much from government to consider these steps,” Bruce said.
 
It was learnt that the Federal Government spent N5bn on the 10-aircraft  PAF in the last 15 months.The Presidency put the amount of money so far released for the PAF  since the inception of the current administration in May 2015 till  date in the region of N5b.The breakdown of the sum showed that N2.3b was released for PAF by  the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation between May and  November 2015.
 
That figure included releases for personnel costs, overheads and  capital expenditures; out of the N5.19bn appropriated for PAF in the  2015 budget.Of the sum, the Presidency said N99.715m was spent on aircraft  maintenance, spares and subscription services.
 
The sum of N98.5m was also spent on operations; N165.373m on training  and N85.5m on personnel medicals and overheads.During the period, it was learnt that PAF spent N1.350bn to settle  outstanding liabilities carried over from 2014 while N500m was  refunded to the NSA for financial support rendered for the maintenance  of the Fleet prior to release of funds.
 
Chief Pilot at XE Jet, Capt. Dung Rwang Pam, commended the decision to auction. He, however, said the government should go a step forward to promote patronage of domestic airlines.
 
According to Pam, “Government don’t need 10 to 11 aircraft, but just three. States using tax payers money to buy aircraft also don’t need it. All of them should take a cue from advanced countries that have policies of patronising local airlines. 
 
“In the United States of America, they have the policy that says officials must fly on American airline to any destination, otherwise you will have to refund. We should really help our domestic airlines to grow by patronising them,” he said.



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