By Rotimi Durojaiye and Abel Orukpe (Lagos)
Nigerian billionaires had, in the last two years, acquired at least six private jets for a combined fee of about $225million (N33.75billion).
This is even as ownership of private jets is becoming increasingly popular in the country with billionaires appearing to be in a race to out-do each other.
Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State recently bemoaned the number of privately-owned jets in Nigeria and called on the Federal Government to probe those who own them. Obi said the jets could be a source of money laundering and economic sabotage.
The billionaires who include politicians, captains of industries and religious leaders spend more than N10 billion annually to maintain their private aircraft.
According to Sunday Independent investigations, the jets were acquired between March 2010 and March 2011, according to a top official of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
According to the source, those who recently acquired private jets are the President of the Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote; Chairman of telecommunications giant, Globacom, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr.; and leader of the Living Faith World Outreach (Winners Chapel), Dr. David Oyedepo.
Others believed to have private jets include Chairman of grounded Air Nigeria, Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim; Chairman of Arik Air, Sir Joseph Arumemi-Johnson; General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of Christ (RCCG) Pastor Enoch Adeboye; Chief Arthur Eze, Chief Obi Jackson and Chief Ifeanyi Uba of Capital Oil and Gas Ltd; former President Ibrahim Babaginda, former Lagos State governor Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu as well as Rivers and Akwa Ibom states.
The oil magnate, Chief Femi Otedola, was said to own a private jet called Challenger Global 5000.
The source disclosed that Dangote acquired a Canadian made Bombardier Global Express XRS in April 2010 at an estimated cost of $45million (N6.75billion).
The eight-passenger aircraft has registration number N104DA.
The source added that Adenuga also bought a similar plane, a Bombardier Global Express XRS, around the same time. The plane is marked VP-CAN, according to the source.
Winners Chapel equally acquired a new Gulfstream V for $30 million (N4.5billion), the source said.
Apart from the three latest jets, the source said there were at least three others acquired by other Nigerians, with each of them estimated to cost at least $35 million (N5.25billion).
The source, however, declined to mention the names of their owners.
Using conservative price figures, the total cost of the six jets is around $225 million (N33.75billion).
The NCAA source said that the jets had been registered with the agency.
The Chief Executive Officer of a chartered airline in Lagos confirmed the purchase of the jets, saying that they belonged to some influential Nigerians and were parked at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT).
The Sales Director for Africa, Bombardier Business Aircraft, Mr. Robert Habjanic, reportedly said that more Nigerians had placed orders for jets made by the company.
Habjanic said Dangote was one of the first set of Nigerians to take delivery of the aircraft, adding that a few other businessmen in the country had ordered for the same Global Express XRS business jet.
According to sources, Dangote and Adenuga’s Bombardier Global Express are fitted with latest flight facilities and are one of the most luxurious in the world.
The arrival of Dangote’s private jet, it was learnt, coincided with his 53rd birthday in 2010.
The jet, which touched down at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, from Canada in a 9.3-hour flight, it was learnt, could travel from Lagos to China non-stop.
It was learnt that the latest acquisitions by Dangote, Adenuga and Oyedepo were not their first jets. Besides these three, the Chagoury Group, a firm formed by a prominent Lebanese business family, reportedly has two private jets in its fleet.
Investigations also show that private jet owners in Nigeria spend at least $52.3million (N7.8billion) annually on maintenance and expatriate pilots.
This is as a result of the owners’ failure to register the jets locally.
Going by the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) policy, Nigeria-registered pilots and engineers cannot fly or maintain foreign-registered aircraft. According to another source, there are about 70 private jets in the country.
It was gathered that about 80 per cent of these private jets carry foreign registration, with most of them registered in South Africa, United States and some European countries.
This means that about 56 jets are being flown and maintained by expatriates.
According to industry experts, annual maintenance of a private jet costs an average of $550,000. This translates into about $30.8million for the estimated 56 foreign-registered aircraft.
An expatriate pilot also takes home an average of $8,000 monthly (about N1.40 million), according to experts. This means that Nigeria loses at least $21.5million annually to expatriate pilots.
These pilots are flown into the country every three weeks. Their return air tickets, as well as hotel and feeding costs, while in Nigeria, are borne by the owners of the private jets.
According to experts, 70 per cent of the foreign-registered private jets flying in Nigeria carry South Africa’s registration; hence, a significant number of the jets are being flown and maintained by South Africans.
They, however, said minor maintenance, called A & B checks in aviation parlance, was mostly done in Nigeria by expatriates from the countries where the private jets are registered.
Another expert claimed that most Nigerian pilots and engineers, having noted the trend, made efforts to obtain foreign licences and validation, especially from South Africa, but were “tactically refused by the authorities in connivance with South African aviation firms, which are supposed to recommend them.”
Although maintaining a private jet is very expensive, stakeholders said that most of their owners could afford to operate them.
The expenses include the cost of hiring at least two pilots for an aircraft, remuneration of the maintenance engineering team, routine overseas maintenance, as well as the cost of fuelling; over-flyer, landing and parking charges.
According to industry experts, it costs an average of $550,000 (N82.5million) annually to maintain a private jet.
Sunday Independent investigations also revealed that three out of the four banks (names withheld), which had acquired private jets before the 2009 shake-up in the banking sector, have put them up for commercial use.
It was gathered that the banks opted for commercialisation of the jets to cover increasing maintenance cost and maximise profit.
The NCAA, which is the industry regulator, has, however, described the action of the banks as illegal, adding that it had commenced investigation into the act.
A source, who is familiar with the operations of the banks’ aircraft, said: “All the banks that own private jets do charter secretly without the knowledge of the NCAA. Some of them do it to maintain their aviation offices and staff. Also, the high cost of maintaining an aircraft and the cost of keeping it idle is forcing them to do so.
“If you keep an aircraft on the ground for a longer-than-expected period, you will spend more money on maintenance because aircraft are designed to be flying and not to be spending a lot of time on the ground.”
A private jet must be flown for at least 350 hours in a year to justify its ownership, according to experts.
Aviation stakeholders had expressed doubts over the justification of continuous ownership of such jets by the banks, considering the cost of operation and the frequency of usage.
Another top official at the General Aviation Terminal, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, where most of the private jets are parked, said that the banks were involved in the charter business to “maximise profits.”
According to him, like chartered jets companies, some of the banks charge about $6,000 (N900,000) per hour for the use of their private jets.
This, he said, served as an additional source of income for the banks.
“All the banks, which own private jets do charter except for one of them, whose jets are no longer seen in the country. They maximise profit from this. Sometimes, they are patronised by senators and ministers. Some of them charge as much as $6,000 per hour, while some charge below that, depending on the personality of the person involved in the charter and his relationship with the bank,” the source, who asked not to be named said.
Hawker Beechcraft Corporation (HBC), a world-leading manufacturer of business, special mission and trainer aircraft – designing, marketing and supporting aviation products and services for businesses, governments and individuals worldwide, recently described Africa and Nigeria in particular, as one of the most promising business aviation growth regions in the world.
The company said it has experienced strong growth in Nigeria over the past several years, describing the country as a very attractive market.
Speaking to Sunday Independent on how private jets are regulated, the Media Assistant to the Director General of NCAA, Mr. Sam Adurogboye, said: “Basically aircraft registration mark indicates the country of registration where the aircraft is registered. If airplane carries 5N at the tail, it means it is NCAA registered. That is, 5N is assigned to Nigeria and any aircraft carrying it is a Nigeria registered civil aircraft.”
He continued: “If the aircraft is not registered in Nigeria it means it was registered in another country. The country of registration has oversight responsibility over the aircraft. For example, British Airways is registered under United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority. UKCAA has oversight over BA aircraft. If we have any issue with BA that has to do with safety implication, we will put the aircraft down and contact UKCAA immediately. They will tell us what to do and which may likely be to go ahead and oversight on their behalf.
“If the UKCAA finds the same thing with an aircraft with 5N in their own place, they will do the same thing.”
On the allegation that owners of private jets might use them for purposes other than that for which they are meant, he said, “it is not correct as the owners do not operate on their own, but through operators with Air Operators Certificate (AOC).”
Adurogboye said Nigerians who have money to buy private jets should do so, adding that it is a sign that the industry is growing.