By Chinedu Eze
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has issued a directive that privately owned jets should now be registered as commercial aircraft because many of them are used for charter services whereas they were registered as privately owned.
Operating privately registered aircraft for hire and reward was deemed illegal by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations, but most of these private jets were used for charter.
By registering the aircraft as commercial, the owners could still use them as private jets and for charter services, but this would attract five per cent VAT to NCAA.
The Director of Airworthiness and Standards in NCAA, Benedict Adeyileka told THISDAY that it is a grey area, which is difficult to delineate when aircraft registered as private jet is used as charter, unless the agency could prove that money exchanged hands when such service was rendered, as aircraft owners are free to airlift their friends and business partners for free.
So because of the complications, Adeyileka said NCAA has persuaded private jets to be registered as commercial and remarked that the owners of private jets carry out strict maintenance of their aircraft and therefore there should be no anxiety about their maintenance.
“It is difficult to prove that the owner of a private jet used it for commercial purposes. It is difficult because it is onus of proof; although operating private jets for commercial charter is illegal. You have to know that these people are rich and powerful and they have good lawyers and we need to prove our allegation beyond reasonable doubt.
“It will be difficult for you to know the mode of payment. So we know that they do charter with their private jets but we cannot prove it. So we have encouraged them to register their aircraft as commercial because we know that many of them don’t joke with their maintenance and we regulate them to ensure they operate safely,” Adeyileka said.
Also speaking in an interview with THISDAY, the Managing Director and CEO of Toucan Aviation Support Services, Achuzie Ezenagu, said that it is the concerned authorities that should resolve the issue of private jets being used for commercial charter services and acknowledged that the general aviation sub-sector is highly regulated.
Ezenagu noted that it is not only Nigeria that is in dilemma about the use of privately registered aircraft for charter services and recalled that even in the UK such controversy comes up from time to time.
“We work in a very highly regulated market. Globally, however, I will like to mention that even in the UK, the British government has not found a way around what you are referring to as grey charter market, where they have a case with one of the companies in the UK that flew Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, to Middle East for some transactions, and when they came back they tried to allege that this was a charter and Blair said why and they said, because the company runs charter service but Blair said, they are my friends.
So, even the British government in England doesn’t know how to handle this. What I believe is that the cornerstone of this market should be safety, not about who is flying who and how they fly what. This question is more a question for the revenue agencies, for the authority to ensure that who was flying is flying safely and then, maybe, to understand that the safety standard that has been used to fly are being adhered to, so that the skies can be safer.’’