•Plane granted humanitarian flight approval operates the commercial flight
•Govt impounds plane, crew arrested, facing interrogation
By Lawani Mikairu & Dirisu Yakubu
Unnamed persons were last night said to be working behind the scenes, deploying their influence to ensure that Flair Aviation, whose plane was impounded yesterday by the Federal Government, did not face maximum sanctions.
Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, yesterday said the Federal Government had impounded an aircraft belonging to Flair Aviation, a United Kingdom-based aviation company, for violating the current ban on flights into the country.
But strong indications emerged that pressure is already being mounted on the Federal Government to soft-pedal on the incident.
A source told Vanguard that those responsible for the flight into the country were already using their contacts within the government to plead for leniency.
The source, who does not want to be named, said: “You don’t expect those responsible for this serious breach of Presidential order to fold their arms and allow justice to take its course. They are already pleading and lobbying. Don’t worry, an official statement will be issued later,” the source told Vanguard.
Sirika had disclosed government action on his official twitter handle @hadisirika, saying the company sought approval for humanitarian operations, only to embark on commercial flights into the Murtala Muhammad Airport in Lagos.
The impounded aircraft, an Embraer Legacy 600 jet, marked G-ERFX, with capacity for 13 passengers, Vanguard learned last night, is currently being detained at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos.
Sirika said the flight crew of the flight is also being interrogated to know their level of culpability, stressing there shall be maximum penalty for the offence.
He said: “COVID-19. Flair Aviation, a UK company, was given approval for humanitarian operations but regrettably, we caught them conducting commercial flights.
“This is callous! The craft is impounded, the crew being interrogated. There shall be a maximum penalty. Wrong time to try our resolve.”
Flair Aviation operated a commercial flight as against the approval of the humanitarian operation it secured to operate to Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, has commenced an investigation into the incident in a bid to unmask possible internal collaborators.
In a chat with Vanguard, James Odaudu, Director, Public Affairs and Communication, Federal Ministry of Aviation, pledged to keep Nigerians abreast of the whole incident at the end of the investigation.
Odaudu said: “Yes, the Federal Government has commenced investigations into the incident. An official statement will be issued by the minister after the investigation.”
When pressed further for a time lag of the investigation, Odaudu said “as soon as investigations is concluded, a statement will be issued. It could be anytime.”
At press time last night, it could not be ascertained the number of passengers the aircraft brought into the country as both the Aviation Ministry and NCAA kept sealed lips on it.
The Federal Government had earlier on May 27 shut down Nigerian airspace following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. The flight ban was recently extended by another month.
The extension of the flight ban was announced on May 6 by the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha during the Presidential Task Force daily briefing on COVID-19.
He said the decision was based on the assessment and advice from experts of the aviation industry to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the country.