Indications emerged on Friday that private jet operators (charter airlines) were bracing for harvests of bumper profits as political parties and politicians begin their campaigns for the 2019 general elections on Sunday.
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission election schedule, political parties will begin their campaigns on Sunday, November 18, 2018, which is approximately three months before the general elections scheduled for February next year.
The Peoples Democratic Party has reportedly said it would begin its campaign on Monday.
Some of the major charter jet firms in the country are: Skyjet Aviation, Skypower Express, Izy Air, Max Air, Dana Aviation, Jed Air, Anap Jets, Execujet, West Link Aviation, Dana Air, Arik Air, Overland Airways, Airstream Aviation and Air First Aviation.
Saturday PUNCH findings revealed that aside from some prominent politicians who leased private jets from overseas for the campaigns, charter jet operators numbering over 15 currently parade at least 40 private aircraft in their fleets.
For example, Skyjet Aviation, which has its base in Kaduna and Abuja, has about five private jets in its fleet. These are: Hawker 900XP, Hawker 800XP, Embraer Legacy 650 and two Learjet
Kaduna-based Dana Aviation has three Dornier 328 aircraft, while Lagos-based Dana Air has about two Learjer45 for charter. Lagos-based Execujet is said to have about eight private jets in partnership with some smaller operators in its fleet. Some of the brands of jets in its fleet are Embraer Legacy 650, Hawker Siddley 125 and Canadian-made Bombardier Challenger 604.
Abuja-based Izy Air also has the Challenger 604 jet and another aircraft, while West Link Aviation also parade a Challenger 604 and other airplanes in its fleet.
Lagos-based Airstream has two aircraft in its fleet, while Max Air is said to have three private jets in its fleet, namely two Learjet and one Embraer Legacy 600.
Some of the private jet operators, who spoke to our correspondent under condition of anonymity for fear of losing patronage because politicians prefer to keep their use of hired private jets secret, said business was picking up already.
They confirmed that orders were already coming in ahead of the three-month period.
A former General Secretary of Airline Operators of Nigeria, the umbrella body for charter airline operators and scheduled carriers, Capt Muhammed Joji, said politicians and parties were going to depend on charter jet firms over the next three months to reach various parts of the country for political gatherings and campaigns.
Joji, who is also the managing director of Skypower Express, a charter airline, advised other players in the segment to ensure their jets “are able to fly for about 200 hours without going for any major maintenance overseas within the next three months.”
He said, “Political parties and politicians have their programmes scheduled already during this period; they won’t entertain any disappointment at the last minute this period. My advice to every operator is to make sure every jet in their fleet is free from any major maintenance over the next three months.”
The Chief Operating Officer, Airstream Aviation, Captain Ken Wemambu, while confirming slight upsurge in orders for private jet flights, said flight activities were already picking up in the charter jet segment.
He said, “Business is picking up, especially for operators who are based in Abuja. We expect better revenue over the next three months of the campaign.”
“Aside the charter jet firms, aviation fuel vendors and ancillary service providers in the charter segment of the aviation industry will benefit from the surge in traffic.
The Managing Director, Air First Aviation, a firm that provides charter, cargo and consultancy services, Mr. Gbolahan Abatan, said the season charter operators were looking forward to had finally come and hopes were high that private jet firms would make better revenue during the period.
Abatan added, “In the previous elections especially in 2011 and 2015, political parties and politicians hired private jets freely because there was boom in the economy. Economic activities are slow now even though this may not affect some politicians.”
According to findings by our correspondent, charter firms who use to record at least one or two flights a week with each flight lasting between three and four hours may now record about four to five flights in a week with each one lasting between four and eight hours depending on the nature of the political gathering, meeting on campaigns.
Some operators told our correspondent that as soon as the campaigns get to the peak, operators may have some of their jets engaged for days and sometimes weeks.
Private jet firms charge $6,000 per hour
Findings revealed that private jets flights charged their clients in dollars and payments were also made in dollars while naira.
Operators told our correspondent under condition of anonymity for fear of backlash that they often charge between $4,500 and $6,500 per hour for their services.
They said charges used to be between $6,000 and $10,000 per hour but the economic downturn in the economy and the present government’s anti-corruption war stance and witch-hunt of political opponents had led to sharp drop in business in the past three years.
The downturn in business, it was learnt, had made some foreign players in the charter business especially the United Kingdom-based Hangar8 and the Switzerland-based Vistajets to leave the country
VistaJets was the company a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, paid millions of dollars to fly its jets during the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
Currently, smaller jets like Hawker Siddley 125-800 goes for between $4,500 and $5,000 per hour, while upscale jets like United States-made Gulfstream 450 series and Canadian-made Bombardier Challenger 605 series go for between $5,500 and $6,500 per hour. Brazilian-made Embraer Legacy 650, according to findings, go for about $5,000 per hour.
The Managing Director of Anap Jets, Capt. Akin George, said its firm was positioned to serve all manner of clients regardless of their affiliation.
Giving further details, the Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Anap Jets, Gbemi Abudu, said, “Anap Jets is a private jet operator that focuses on fractional ownership, ad hoc charter and aircraft management. We are dedicated to providing efficient and reliable solutions to meet the business aviation needs of our clients. Therefore, we are always available to cater to the needs of our clientele.”
Elections: FG orders security agencies to begin search of private jets, passengers
Meanwhile, the Federal Government may have ordered security agencies to begin search of private jets and their passengers as the 2019 campaigns and other electioneering activities begin.
It was learnt that security agencies including the operatives of the Department of State Services, Immigration, Customs and the Special Task Force on Currency at the nation’s airports and private terminals would soon begin to search every private jet and their occupants before departures and after arrivals.
Multiple security sources at the Lagos and Abuja airports confirmed the development.
They were told that as the 2019 elections were drawing near, intelligence reports had shown that politicians might be trying to move funds both in local and foreign currencies via their private jets or hired planes to prosecute the campaigns and elections.
They said the development informed the decision to search the private jet of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, at the Abuja airport last Sunday shortly after his arrival from Dubai where he had gone for vacation.
It was, however, learnt that the decision to search Atiku’s jet was a specific order from the Federal Government, even though the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, claimed it was a routine search usually conducted on all arriving passengers.
“Even though it is within our laws that security agencies can search private jets and their occupants, security agencies have not been doing this. It may be because there were no threats in the past. What I can say is that the search of Atiku’s jet is political because it is not the usual practice; the chief executive officer of an Abuja-based charter flight operator told our correspondent under condition of anonymity.
NCAA beef up security at private jet terminals, hangars
Meanwhile, the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, the aviation industry regulator, Capt Muktar Usman, has said the Federal Government will beam its searchlight on all private jet terminals and private jet flights as campaigns towards the 2019 elections begin.
He said every election season was usually characterised with increased level of activities in the private and charter jet segment of the aviation sector and the agency would ensure no infraction is committed by any politician, party or charter operator.
Usman said, “We are all aware that as we are approaching the election season, there would be more movements in the private and charter flights segment. We are aware there are more movements, so the monitoring should be more. We are taking all those things into consideration. It’s part of our own oversight responsibility and we are taking things very seriously. So, we are monitoring to ensure that standards are met and adhered to.
EFCC threatens BDCs as politicians mop up forex for campaigns
Meanwhile, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Thursday held a closed-door meeting with leaders of the trade association body of Bureau De Change operators and threatened to prosecute them for aiding politicians to engage in money laundering.
The meeting, which was chaired by the Chairman, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, started around 2pm at the head office of the anti-corruption agency in Abuja. It lasted for about two hours.
Sources at the meeting said Magu told leaders of the Association of Bureau De Change Operators of Nigeria at the meeting that henceforth, the anti-graft agency would no longer use the BDCs as prosecution witnesses but as suspects.
He said the decision follow recent reports of the brazen manner politicians were engaging in money laundering in connivance with BDC operators.
The EFCC chair was said to have told the 11 key leaders of ABCON selected across the country that campaign was about to start and politicians were engaging more in money laundering to prosecute the election.
The EFCC could not immediately comment on the development.
But the President, ABCON, Alhaji Aminu Gwadabe, confirmed the meeting. He said the meeting focused on the need to warn their members against money laundering as the elections draw near.