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COVID-19: FG arrests, quarantines pilots of seized Flairjet British aircraft

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Lockdown hits Nigerian aviation sector hard, govt agencies can’t pay salaries

 

For violating the no-flight order amid COVID-19, the Federal Government has arrested and quarantined the pilots of an aircraft owned by a British company which contravened the lockdown.

 

“We are investigating the matter right now, it would finish very soon. The crew is made of British nationals. The pilots are subjected to 14 days quarantine at the moment while the investigation goes on.

 

“Whatever is there in our laws will be applied to the fullest,” the Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, said Monday at the media  briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja.

 

He, however, apologized for the mix-up by initially referring to the airline involved as Flairjet as against Flair Aviation that he tweeted on Sunday.

 

“There is a company called Flairjet. I want to apologise that I tweeted in the afternoon (on Sunday) when the fasting was biting harder and we verified this as Flair Aviation. The correct name is Flairjet and it is a UK registered company.

 

“They have an aircraft, Legacy 600, and the registration number of the aircraft is GPRFX. Their business address is Business Aviation Centre, Terminal Road, Birmingham International Airport, West Midlands and their code is B26QN.

 

“This company applied severally as to operate humanitarian flights and we did approve. It is very clear at the beginning of this exercise that we defined what those flights should be: essential flights basically – cargo, medical evacuation, medical supplies, and so on and so forth.

 

“Unfortunately, this company decided to become commercial in their service, charging money and flying people in and out.

 

“In the first place, the whole essence of a lockdown is to ensure there is no movement of persons freely because this COVID-19 we are all spending sleepless nights for happened because somebody travelled abroad. So, we believe this should not happen,’’ he said.

 

Sirika also said there has been a slight change in the procedure as regards flight approval by the ministry during the current lockdown.

 

He explained: “This time around once we receive any requests for a flight, we are to get in touch quickly with the full purpose of the point of entry to see whether quarantine space available before that flight is given approval.

 

“Those details I’m sure will come in the briefing by the national coordinator, but this will be done electronically as usual through WhatsApp or email and they need to be a speedy as it is to be certainly don’t have any significant time lost.”

 

On the lingering crisis between SAHCOL and NAHCO Aviance, the minister said the government has been able to secure 80 percent demurrage waiver for the organizations.

 

“Secondly there is lingering issue on the relationship or business relationship between the two entities — SAHCOL and NACO Aviance and the clearing agents and the parallel in what happens in the maritime industry.

 

“There is a slight difference between what is obtained in the aviation and in the maritime industry. The national Port Authority concession their ports to private operators and they are making money out of it. What about the demurrage charges? Nigeria Ports Authority shares in that demurrage.

 

“So it is within their powers to be able to grant waivers on the kind of demurrage.

 

“In the case of civil Aviation, it used to be owned by Nigerian government but it was sold, so NACO too is a private entity and so the relationship is between the clearing agents and those two entities.

 

“Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) in the revenue from demurrage nothing goes to them at all. They are not in a position neither do us to enforce waiver on those charges,’’ Sirika explained.

 

“However, as regulators of the industry and a very responsible government MDA, we thought that we should intervene and try to see what we can do to bring peace and promote those businesses; both businesses and that resulted in the two companies giving 80 percent waiver of the demurrage charges and start negotiating with the 20 percent.

 

“It is the intent of government to continue to intervene to get to perhaps the zero demurrage in due course, believing that aviation being the worst hit, whatever palliative comes from the government will certainly come to aviation.

 

“And if that happens, then of course based on the criteria that we set out for government every aviation entrepreneur and companies and businesses would share from that if it happens and we’re very confident that a government notes the situation in aviation which is a pathetic one.

 

“It is the worst hit, we are bleeding. As I speak to you, even institutions of government are not able to pay their salaries.

 

“So we will be alive to our responsibility, I assure you and I’m very confident that the issue of demurrage will be as it is being practiced in the maritime industry,’’ Sirika said.

 

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