…‘Investigation still ongoing; only Minister can speak for now’
By Lawani Mikairu
The crew of the UK-based Company, Flairjet plane impounded by the Federal Government on Sunday for breaching flight ban in the country has been quarantined in Lagos to ascertain if they have the dreaded coronavirus.
This is even as investigations into the incident by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, is still ongoing.
In a telephone chat with Vanguard yesterday, the Director of Information and Public Affairs, Ministry of Aviation, Dr James Odaudu, confirmed that investigation by the regulatory authority was still ongoing.
He also said the crew of the aircraft was currently undergoing the mandatory 14 days quarantine in Lagos where the aircraft landed.
Meanwhile, NCAA yesterday said only the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, or Aviation Ministry officials could make public comments on the issue.
The General Manager, Public Affairs, NCAA, Mr Sam Adurogboye, yesterday directed Vanguard to channel all enquires to the Minister or the Ministry officials.
Recall that the Flair Aviation aircraft operated a commercial flight into Nigeria, despite airspace closure in the country due to COVID-19 pandemic, when it was granted permit to operate a humanitarian flight.
Information available revealed that the aircraft, an Embraer Legacy 600, with the registration number G-ERFX and 13 passengers’ seats, piloted by Captain Andy Bell, had applied for humanitarian evacuation to London in support of the Federal Government’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on May 12, 2020.
A document showed that the “request was approved on May 13, 2020 by M.S. Noibi, the Director of Air Transport Management, Ministry of Aviation and notified all agencies available. “The aircraft, according to its flight plan, was scheduled to depart London Stansted Airport on Saturday 17, 2020 at 08:00hrs with the flight number FLJ611 and six passengers onboard.
“It had a first landing at Alcante El Abet Airport in Spain with six passengers at 12:25hrs. From Spain, the jet departed for the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, MMIA, Lagos with the same flight number: FLJ611 and landed at the airport with seven passengers at 13:05hrs under the guise of essential flight.
“The jet was scheduled to leave Nigeria with seven passengers to Alcante El Abet airport in Spain at 20:20hrs and was to be handled by Execujet Aviation Nigeria Ltd at the Lagos Airport,’’ the document read.
It was when the plane landed in Nigeria that government officials discovered that the company actually operated commercial flight into Nigeria, with a plan to return with another seven passengers onboard.
The aircraft has been impounded by security officials while its cabin crew was arrested and interrogated by security agencies who accused them of flouting the approval given to them by the Nigerian authorities.
The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, had in his official twitter handle, confirmed that the ministry gave the airline an approval for humanitarian operations only to be caught conducting commercial flights into the country.
Sirika twitted: “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, crew being interrogated. There shall be maximum penalty. Wrong time to try our resolve!”