As the debate over the newly-unveiled National Civil Aviation Policy 2013 continues in Nigeria, the federal government has explained that some controversial parts of the policy were necessitated by the alleged use of private jets to smuggle cash and wanted persons out of the country.
Under the new policy, pilots of private jets are to declare their passenger manifest before obtaining Air Traffic Control (ATC) clearance.
Also, owners of private jets can only carry members of their families in such planes.
But aviation experts and opposition parties have criticised the policy, describing it as impracticable and targetted at perceived enemies of the government.
The grounding of the private jet of the oil-rich state of Rivers by the Federal Government for sundry reasons have reinforced the criticism, especially because of the political differences between the Governor of the state, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, and President Goodluck
While the government seems to have soft-pedalled on who a private jet owner can carry in his aircraft, it insists that pilots seeking ATC clearance must declare their manifest.
Local newspapers Monday quoted aviation parastatals’ spokesman Yakubu Dati as saying the order for the declaration of passenger manifest was necessary to check the abuse of the use of private and chartered jets.
Mr. Dati said security operatives had disclosed that many wanted persons were being smuggled out of the country with private jets.
He also said some wanted persons were being sneaked into the country without appropriate checks as many private jets take off from private facilities at airports.
The spokesman said that about 80 per cent of the 150 private jets operating in the country were registered overseas, thus exempting them from paying taxes and five per cent charges to the regulatory Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
“So, when you collate what government agencies lose by the illegal operations of these aircraft, it amounts to over 25 billion naira (US$158 million) in a year. And I can authoritatively tell you that it is now a lucrative business that businessmen bring in aircraft to operate as private jets, while they are actually used for commercial purposes,” he said.
A top Nigerian banking industry official, Mr Segun Agbaje, recently disclosed that the 150 private jets in Nigeria are worth US$3.75 billion.
Mr. Agbaje, who is the Managing Director of Guarantee Trust Bank (GTB), said the most popular jets among Nigerian billionaires were Gulfstream, Bombardier, Global Express, Hawker Legacy and Dassault Falcon.