On October 5, 2016, Thisday reported that in fulfillment of one of his campaign promises to cut costs, President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the disposal of two of the aircraft operated by the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF) of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF).
The presidency, through the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), advertised the sale of two aircraft in THISDAY newspaper. According to the advert, the two aircraft to be disposed off comprised a Falcon 7X executive jet and Hawker 4000. The airplanes, however, were just two of well over a dozen aircraft believed to be in the PAF.
ONSA, in the advert, said all bids should be quoted in US dollars and invited interested buyers were to inspect the Falcon at the presidential wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International, Airport, Abuja, while the Hawker aircraft was to be inspected at the Cessna Zurich Citation Service Centre in Zurich, Switzerland.
Interested buyers were given four weeks from date of advert to submit their bids for the two aircraft.
The Falcon 7X had a registration number, 5N-FGU and serial number 090. It had a passenger capacity for 16 persons and three crew members.
Its highlights included: Entry of service (2011); one owner; time of service: 2,776:47 hours; cycles since purchase: 2363; engine completed HSI in May 2016; engine time to overhaul is 4,529hrs: and ready for sale immediately.
The Hawker 4000 aircraft had a registration number 5N-FGX and serial number RC 066. It had a passenger capacity of nine persons, three crew, and highlights of service entry was in 2012; 1,178:15hrs since time of service; 1,146hours cycles; engine time overhaul is 4,821hours; and was ready for sale immediately.
In a statement by the president’s media aide, Mallam Garba Shehu, the presidency confirmed that the newspaper advertisement in THISDAY for the sale of two presidential aircraft was duly authorised by Buhari.
According to him, the decision was in line with the directive by Buhari that aircraft in the presidential air fleet be reduced to cut waste.
Shehu further said that when Buhari campaigned as the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate before the 2015 presidential election, he promised to look into the presidential air fleet with a view to cutting down on waste.
He explained that Buhari’s directive to a government committee given this assignment was that he would like to see a compact and reliable aircraft fleet for the safe airlift of the president, vice-president and other government officials on special missions.
While disclosing that the exercise was by no means complete, Shehu added that some other aircraft in the presidential fleet would be handed over to the Nigerian Air Force to boost its operations.
THISDAY had exclusively reported in 2015 of plans by the presidency to sell some of the aircraft in the presidential air fleet as part of the government’s cost cutting measures.
However, after pressure was brought to bear, the presidency denied the story and deferred plans to sell some of the aircraft.
Insider sources had informed THISDAY that the presidency had a number of serviceable and unserviceable aircraft that needed to be disposed off in order to reduce the amount spent by the federal government on aircraft maintenance annually.
Although information on the exact size of the fleet was treated as classified information, the fleet, according to aviation sources, was believed to comprise 11 to 16 aircraft, chief of which was the Boeing 738 BBJ, NAF 001 or Eagle One, used by the president for his travels.
With its luxury configuration comprising a master bedroom, washrooms and showers, a conference and dinning area, and a living area, the plane seats 25 to 50 passengers and would cost at least $100 million to replace as at that day.
THISDAY gathered that about eight of the planes were reserved strictly for the president. Others were reserved for executive airlift.
The aircraft reserved for executive airlift were used by the Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and could be used to convey African heads of states visiting or departing Nigeria.
On November 20, 207, Premium Times reported that the federal government had proposed to spend N7.26 billion on the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF), in the 2018 budget proposal according to details by the Budget Office of the Federation.
In the existing proposal, which was subject to the approval by the National Assembly, at least N1.58 billion was set aside for the overhaul and maintenance of five aircraft on the fleet, from about N2.9 billion budgeted for capital expenditure.
Details showed that N200 million was proposed for the mandatory upgrade and installation of live TV and internet service on BBJ (5N-FGT), just as about N240 million was voted for a similar service on G550 (5N-FGW) during the year.
Equally, N375 million would be used for installation of new cabin management system on GV (5N-FGS); N196.5 million for overhaul of landing gear for BBJ aircraft and N222 million for overhaul of Falcon 7X (5N-FGV) aircraft engines.
About N3.89 billion was proposed for mandatory upgrades on fleet aircraft; general aircraft maintenance; aircraft fuel cost; purchase of air navigational equipment; rehabilitation/repairs of air navigational equipment and purchase of Towberless tow tractor for aircraft towing.
In the 2017 budget, about N2.03 billion was approved for the purchase of fire fighting vehicle and equipment and air navigational equipment; aircraft towing vehicle, aircraft maintenance tools and kitchen equipment; aircraft fuel cost and aircraft maintenance.
The PAF, considered the second largest airline in the country after Arik Air, had remained a controversial subject, following outcry among Nigerians that the cost of maintenance of more than 10 aircraft in the fleet was too high, particularly at times of lean economic resources.
On assumption of office, President Muhamadu Buhari had assured his administration would cut down on the number of aircraft on the fleet inherited from former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015.
In November 2015, presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, had said 10 aircraft in the fleet included two each of Augusta 149, Augusta 101 and Falcon 7X as well as one each of HS 4000, G500, G550 and 737 BBJ series.
In October 2016, more than a year after taking office, apparently in an attempt to downsize the PAF, the Buhari administration advertised the sale of two of the aircraft – a Falcon 7X executive jet and Hawker 4000.
When contacted for clarification, Mr. Shehu said the sale of Falcon and the Hawker were still to be concluded.
“The bids are being reviewed by both sides. One thing I want to assure Nigerians is that the present administration is determined to secure the country’s best interest in a market that is sounding hawkish,” Mr. Shehu had said in October 2016.
Saturday PUNCH reports that two presidential aircraft, a Falcon 7X executive jet and Hawker 4000, that were advertised for sale in October 2016, were yet to be sold almost 16 months after.
It was further learnt that the decision of the preferred bidders for the two jets to renege on their bid prices was largely responsible for the delay in the sales of the aircraft.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, told Punch in an interview in March that the bid amounts agreed to be paid by the two preferred bidders for the two aircraft stood at $24m, which was the projected sales figures.
He said, unfortunately, the winners of the bids, whose identities he did not disclose, reneged when they were asked to come and pay. He said they came up with a new figure of $11m for the two jets.
While describing the preferred bidders’ attitude as absurd, the presidential spokesman said under the present administration, no one would be allowed to take a public asset and run away for nothing.
Notwithstanding the development, he said the Presidency was still determined to sell the jets, adding that they were still available for serious buyers.
Shehu said, “The Presidency is still determined to carry out President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive that the presidential air fleet should be reduced, so the process to trade the Falcon 7X (5N-FGU) and Hawker 4000 (5N-FGX) to anyone interested is still ongoing.
“What happened over this period of time is that the preferred bidders, who emerged at the open and transparent process, refused to come forward with the payments.
“The one who came closest to the reserved price of $22m for the Falcon won with an offer of $21m. The Hawker had a reserved price of $2m but the winner offered a higher bid of $3m.
“As you can see, the bid amounts put together promised to return the projected sales figure of $24m.
“Unfortunately, they both reneged when asked to come forward with payments. The winner of the Falcon offer said they had only $10m and the others who came for the Hawker said they could only pay $1m.
“Now, that, to say the least, is completely absurd. They probably thought there was desperation here or some sort of deal could be cut in line with old practices in government.
“This is a Buhari administration. Nobody will take public assets and run away for nothing. So the aircraft are still there for any serious buyers.”
On whether the aircraft are still being used by the Presidency while awaiting the conclusion of their sale, a Presidency source explained to Punch that only one of the two aircraft offered for sale was not in use.
He claimed that while the Falcon was not idle, the Hawker was no longer in use anywhere in the world.
The source said, “I think the Falcon is being used, it is not idle. But the Hawker is no longer in use anywhere in the world and the spare parts are not being manufactured anywhere.
“This is not a Nigerian problem; most countries of the world have stopped that type of aircraft from flying. That’s why it’s being offered for about $2m.
“Even if you buy that aircraft, maybe you can just fly it to your country in cargo or so to be cannibalized because other countries will not accept it. I believe that one is on the ground but the Falcon is not idle.”
Newspaper advertisements on the sales of the jet were published in October 2016.
Shehu had in a statement made available to journalists said the decision to sell the jets was in line with the directive of the President that the aircraft in the Presidential Air Fleet be reduced to cut down on waste.
“When he campaigned to be President, the then APC candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, if you recall, promised to look at the Presidential Air Fleet with a view to cutting down on waste.
“His directive to a government committee on this assignment is that he liked to see a compact and reliable aircraft for the safe airlift of the President, the Vice President and other government officials that go on special missions,” he had said.
The Presidency had said the PAF had 10 aircraft at the inception of this administration in 2015.
These are Boeing Business Jet (Boeing 737-800 or AirForce One), one Gulfstream 550, one Gulfstream V (Gulfstream 500), two Falcons 7X, one Hawker Sidley 4000, two AgustaWestland AW 139 helicopters and two AgustaWestland AW 101 helicopters.
Some of the jets in the fleet have since been handed over to the Nigerian Air Force to boost its operations.
According to the details of the 2018 Appropriation Bill submitted to the National Assembly, the Federal Government was to spend N1.4bn on the maintenance of presidential jets this year as captured in the budget of the PAF-State House.
The PAF would also spend N398m on aviation fuel; N196m to overhaul the landing gear of Presidential BBJ Aircraft while N222m would be spent to overhaul the engines of Falcon 7X (5N-FGV).
Also, N375m would be spent to install new cabin management system on GV (5N-FGS) while N350m was budgeted to comply with mandatory upgrades on PAF aircraft.
Another N240m was proposed for compliance with the mandatory upgrade and installation of Internet service on G550 (5N-FGW) and another N200m for the mandatory upgrade and installation of live TV and Internet service on BBJ (5N-FGT).