House of Representatives Indicts Aviation Ministry, NCAA Over Grounding Of Rivers State Plane

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  • Calls for the Prosecution Of Caverton Helicopters

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The hullabaloo over the grounding of Rivers State owned Bombardier B700 Global Express Jet by the Ministry of Aviation and Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA in which the House of Representatives commenced public hearing has ended with a report from the House faulting the Ministry of Aviation and the NCAA in the way it handled the issue.

In the same report by the House, it also demanded that Caverton Helicopters be prosecuted by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke for giving fake information in the face-off.

The Probe which was done by the Joint House Committees on Justice and Aviation which was also presided by Hon Ali Ahmad who is  the Committee Chairman on Justice and also Hon Nkeriruka Onyejeocha, chairman House Committee on Aviation  reveals that; ”that the  aircraft Bombardier B700-1A11 Global Express with Registration Number N565RS is the property of Rivers State Government, and that 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.”

Furthermore the report also stated that; 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 Hon. 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.”

Meanwhile the report also stated that; “As from 27 August, 2012 when it applied on behalf of Rivers State Government to import the aircraft, Caverton maintained agency relationship with the Government; although that relationship was abated shortly thereafter with regard to importation of the aircraft, other aspects of the agency relationship continued especially relating to applications for flight clearance; however, all relationships between the parties was brought to an end by Caverton’s letter of denunciated to NCAA dated 26 April, 2013, adding that 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 provision of the law; Rivers state government operated its aircraft with expired clearance between 2nd and 26th April, 2013; but several other aircrafts are suspected to be in similar situation; isolation of Rivers State Government for reprimand becomes difficult to deny.”

“Justifications for both the delayed start-up in Akure and the continued grounding of the aircraft in Port Harcourt amount to taking an action and later shopping for reasons: the faulty declaration of manifest and failure to file flight plan ceased to be a reason immediately the  Director-General of NAMA waived the infringement and permitted the aircraft to depart Akure, otherwise continuous citing manifest and flight plan violations as additional reason for grounding the aircraft has serious implication for the Director-General; alleged fabrication of documents by Rivers State Government was unsubstantiated; Having overlooked the Akure violation, the only justification known to law to warrant regulatory action against the aircraft is its operation with expired clearance between 2nd and 26th April, 2013; however, NCAA botched the opportunity to legally impose the sanction as it failed to give a written notice to Rivers State Government as required by Section 35(5) Civil Aviation Act, Cap. C13 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”

It went further to declare in its report that; “The handling by NAMA and NCAA of this violation and their response actions further confirms the previous findings of the Joint Senate and House Committee on Aviation on the Crash of Dana Aircraft that the Ministry of Aviation exerts undue interference on routine operations of these agencies. The level of ineptitude of NCAA is glaring in many respects: failure to appreciate from a trust agreement that an aircraft belongs to a trustor-beneficiary even after their attention is drawn to it and even as other aircraft are registered in the name of the same trustee; non-detection of an expired flight clearance 24 days after the fact and the detection was triggered by an incident rather than as a matter of course; even if the fact of falsification of documents were true. It was unacceptable that NCAA did not detect this fact for over six months; indeed NCAA boasted in a letter of 29th April, 2013 that following the incident it undertook a “due diligence of the status of the aircraft”, but even then it failed to determine the issue of ownership and several others.”

In its recommendation, the House also stated that;” 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 N565Rs; For providing information that led the authorities to wrongly believe that Rivers State Government falsified documents thereby leading to grounding of its aircraft, the Hon. Attorney-General is requested to consider prosecuting Caverton Helicopters under the provisions of S. 36(4) Civil Aviation Act, Cap. C13 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”

“Even as it also 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 Committee on Aviation be mandated to scrutinize 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 sanitizing their operation and ensuring enforcement of the law in a society that is democratic.”

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