by Paul Osas
The House of Representatives committees on justice and aviation yesterday urged the Ministry of Aviation and other regulatory agencies to lift the sanctions imposed on the Bombardier jet owned by the Rivers State Government. The committees cleared the state and its officials of any forgery in the documents to secure flight clearances or any other license.
They recommended that Caverton Helicopter should be prosecuted under S. 36 (4) Civil Aviation Act, Cap. C13 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 for providing information that let to the grounding of the aircraft. But the company was swift to deny any wrong doing, saying that it only applied for importation for the aircraft and nothing more.
The said aircraft was grounded on April 26 by the Ministry of Aviation, based on alleged infractions, including operating the aircraft with expired clearance, failure to file a flight plan and failure to make a manifest available to regulatory agencies.
The committees claimed that although the government operated its aircraft with expired clearance between April 2 and 26, several other aircraft are suspected to be in a similar situation. They said the isolation of Rivers State for sanction is rather glaring.
The House committees in their report signed by the Chairmen of the Justice and Aviation committees, Ali Ahmad and Nkeiruka C. Onyejeocha, confirmed the Bombardier B700-1A11 Global Express marked N565RS as the property of Rivers State.
“That in view of our findings, we hereby make the following recommendations: Rivers State Government should be allowed to comply with the necessary conditions for granting of all required permits and licences of Rivers State Government – owned Bombardier B700 Global Express Registration Number N564Rs,” the report said.
“For providing information that led the authorities to wrongly believe that Rivers State Government falsified documents thereby leading to grounding of its aircraft, the Attorney – General is requested to consider prosecuting Caverton Helicopter under provisions of S. 36 (4) CIVIL Aviation Act, Cap. C13 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
“Urge the Ministry of Aviation to desist from undue interference in the day-to-day operations of the aviation regulatory authorities as envisaged by the law;
“Urge the aviation regulatory authorities to operate professionally and ensure compliance with international best practices in the industry;
“That the House of Committee on Aviation be mandated to scrutinise the reason for rampant foreign registration of aircraft by their owners and to further investigate all private – use aircraft operating in the country with a view to sanitising their operations and ensuring enforcement of the law in a society that is democratic.”
The premise for their conclusion was given as: “Based on its findings, the Committee reaches the following conclusions:
“The aircraft Bombardier B700- IAI I Global Express with Registration Number N565RS is the property of Rivers State government;
“Operational and other navigational charges were received by NAMA and FAAN and other agencies while operating the aircraft and receipts issued without raising alarm as to ownership of the aircraft by Rivers State government;
“Perusal of the Trust Agreement between Rivers State Trustor and Bank of Utah Trustee would have shown this fact of ownership, it is distressing that NCAA and the ministry still fail or refuse to appreciate this simple fact; but since the authorities did not raise ownership issue with several other aircraft having the name of Bank of Utah Trustees, this allegation is in bad faith and grossly unprofessional;
“As the owner, Rivers State government, elected to register the aircraft in the U.S. to save money for the state and avoid unnecessary bureaucracy;
“Rivers State government, through Caverton, applied to the Minister of Aviation to import and operate the aircraft in Nigeria but the application was not consummated. And so, it is being operated in Nigeria as a foreign aircraft for private use;
“As from August 27, 2012, when it applied on behalf of Rivers State to import the aircraft, Caverton maintained agency rationship with the government; although that relationship was abated shortly thereafter with regard to the importation of the aircraft, other aspects of the agency relationship continued, especially relating to applications for flight clearance; however, all relationships between the parties were brought to an end by Caverton’s letter of denunciated to NCAA dated 26 April, 2013;
“As owner and operator of the aircraft, neither Rivers State government nor its officials forged or falsified any document toward securing flight clearances or any other licence;
“Should top management of Caverton deny transacting business with Rivers State government despite its acquiescence of transactions between its member of staff and the Government, then its behaviour smacks of administrative laxity or negligence; alternatively, its behavior lends credence to the assertion that it was pressured to deny the relationship.
“Caverton should be held accountable for providing information that led NCAA to ground the aircraft, contrary to the provision of the law.”