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How political pressure forced Caverton to disown Rivers govt over aircraft

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By SONI DANIEL, REGIONAL EDITOR, NORTH

Indications have emerged that undue political pressure being mounted on Caverton Helicopters was behind the attempt by the company to disown its relationship with the Rivers State-owned aircraft, a Bombardier Global Express, currently grounded by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, in Port Harcourt.

Findings by Vanguard revealed that apart from applying to the Aviation Ministry for permit to import and operate the said aircraft, Caverton has been responsible for obtaining most of the operational clearance for the aircraft with call signal N565RS, which the Rivers State government acquired from the United States of America in September 2012.

Documents exclusively obtained by Vanguard from the Aviation Ministry indicated that Caverton came under pressure to deny any business dealings with the Rivers State government, when in reality it has been dealing with several aviation parastatals on behalf of the state government.

It was learnt that following a business relationship with Rivers State Caverton formally applied to the Aviation Minister on August 27, 2012, requesting for approval to bring in the aircraft and operate on behalf of the state.

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The receipt of the letter, which was signed by the Executive Vice Chairman of the company, was officially acknowledged by the Minister’s Office on September 21, 2012.

Findings further revealed that although the ministry appeared to have sat on the request, Caverton has been obtaining flight approvals for the landing and taking off of the aircraft from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, and security agencies operating at the nation’s airports.

For instance, between January 4 and March 27, 2013, Caverton applied and got clearance from the NCAA for the operation of the aircraft in and outside the country without any objection from any of the relevant agencies.

In one of the applications dated January 4, 2013, and addressed to the Director General of the NCAA, with the caption ‘Application for Aircraft Clearance’, and signed by Adeniyi Makanjuola, the company wrote, “We hereby apply for aircraft clearance to arrive and depart aircraft No. N565RS for a business flight between January 4 and 8, 2013.”

After examining the request from Caverton, one Mrs. J.O. Wariya, the Director of Air Transport Regulation, who signed on behalf of the DG of NCAA, wrote to the Department of State Service, DSS, intimating them of the application by Caverton to operate a private flight with the Rivers aircraft on the said dates.

Similar requests were made by Caverton on behalf of the Rivers State Government on January 21, February 8 and March 27, 2013 to the NCAA and prompt approvals given for the aircraft to fly.

In responding to the requests, the Director of Airworthiness wrote back, saying in all the five cases, “No technical objections”.

It was, however, learnt from reliable aviation sources that the helicopter company was made to recant its business dealings with Rivers State after the government decided to move against Governor Rotimi Amaechi.

In a volte face, on the same day the Amaechi aircraft was delayed in Akure, Caverton wrote a letter dated April 26, 2013 to the Acting DG of the NCAA, denying having anything to do with the Bombardier Aircraft.

In a four-paragraph letter signed by Sola Falola, the Manager of Caverton, the company said, “Pursuant to a review of our aircraft records and airworthiness documentation, it has come to our attention that the above named aircraft (Bombardier Global Express 5000/Reg No N565RS) has been obtaining flight clearance under the name of Caverton Helicopters without due approval from any of the nominated past holders within our organisation.

“Our only contact with the said aircraft was on August 2012 when the aircraft management company, ACASS of Canada, contacted us to assist with an importation permit to facilitate the delivery of the aircraft into the country to their client.

“We did a letter to the Ministry of Aviation in this regard but did not follow up subsequently because ACASS indicated that they were no longer responsible for the management of the said aircraft.

“We have not had any dealings whatsoever with the said aircraft; neither have we given any approvals, tacit or otherwise to any third parties to seek or obtain the NCAR’s and would like to bring this to your attention for necessary action”, the company said.

Vanguard learnt that the strident attempt by Caverton to deny its relationship with the aircraft and Rivers State government was borne out of the threat by some powerful aviation officials to revoke its licence if it does not distance itself from the Amaechi aircraft.

However, the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation and Justice, which  is investigating the matter, is reportedly angry with the company for trying to deny the letters written by its officials in connection with the aircraft.

A member of the committee, who spotted the correspondences between Caverton and the aviation agencies relating to the aircraft, is said to have descended on the company for trying to twist the facts, during a public hearing on Tuesday.

“We are surprised that a company that has signed several letters in respect of the Rivers aircraft is still trying to deny its actions.

“We are going to get to the bottom of the matter and let Nigerians see who is lying or telling the truth over the aircraft so as to separate politics from business”, a member of the National Assembly probing the matter vowed yesterday.

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