Off-loading the presidential fleet
UNTIL 1999, the presidential fleet was under the control and supervision of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). Before 1999, senior Air Force officers in their grey upon blue well-ironed uniforms were seen on the 11th floor of Federal Secretariat, which was then the office of the SGF, hanging around. But in June 1999, former President Olusegun Obasanjo transferred the fleet to be part of the schedule of the Chief of Staff to the President.
The argument was that the Chief of Staff, being conversant with the President’s itinerary, is in a better position to control the fleet adequately. I understand that the fleet is now under my friend, Col. Sabo Dasuki (rtd.), the National Security Adviser (NSA) whose loyalty and patriotism are never in doubt. Before 1999, the fleet was almost dormant for lack of use.
General Ibrahim Babangida (72) hardly travels outside the country, except to visit some states and Chief Ernest Oladeinde Adegunle Shonekan (79) whose tenure lasted less than 100 days, made use of the fleet only once when he attended the Commonwealth conference outside Nigeria. The second time he used the fleet was when he was overthrown and brought down to Lagos in company of Chief Dapo Sarumi.
General Sani Abacha hardly travelled outside Abuja, in fact during his era, pilots attached to the presidential fleet complained of under-utilisation, raising fears that they might lose their licences for not flying enough. In 1997, he made only five trips outside Abuja; in 1998, he made three trips, the fourth would have taken him to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso on June 8, 1998 for the African Union Conference, the very day that he died.
General Abdusalam Abubakar, who spent less than 11 months in office, was too busy with his transition programme that he hardly travelled. He made four trips during his era, two to Niger Delta to inspect the oil spillage in that area. As for President Olusegun Okikiola Obasanjo, the Jagunmolu of Egbaland, he was a flying President. Even till today, when the presidential fleet is outside his control, he is still flying around the world. He loves to fly. That is the way he is. And the pilots attached to the presidential fleet loved him for that.
The presidential fleet still remains today the most important posting in the Nigerian Air Force. For example, the present Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshall Alex Sabundu Badeh, was a product of the Presidential Fleet, as he flew former Vice President Atiku Abubakar between 1999 and 2007 severally. Even the present Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Adesola Nunayun Amosu, was a product of the Presidential Air Fleet too. The Fleet has one of the largest aircraft in the world in comparison to other countries.
The British Prime Minister has no presidential aircraft. Members of the British government charter either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic most times. The government of Tunisia operates a Boeing 737 BBJ. An Airbus A340-500 has also been purchased and VIP-configured, but was never used for travel and has been stored since the 2011 revolution that ousted former dictator, Ben Ali. The Tunisian government is reportedly trying to sell both aircraft.
The government of Algeria operates an Airbus A340-500.
The Chief Executive of Hong Kong travels on commercial aircraft, usually operated by Cathay Pacific. He travels with helicopters operated by the Government Flying Service.
The Ivoirien government uses a Gulf IV as a VIP aircraft. A government Boeing 727-200WGL is also in service.
The State of Israel does not currently possess a specific jet for use of its Head of State. Wherever the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flies long distances (out of the country), the government leases an airliner from the state airline, El Al. Meanwhile, the President, Reuvin Rivlin, and other high-ranking dignitaries are relegated to El Al first class commercial service. As of 2014, the Knesset is considering the purchase of such an airplane dubbed ‘Israeli Air Force One’.
Kenya’s President has a Fokker 70 for use as the presidential jet. Fokker executive plane was purchased at a cost of $50 million. The 70-seater jet was reconfigured into telecommunications facilities. Prior to the purchase of the Fokker, the Kenya President primarily used Airways for his international travel.
The Saudi Arabian Royal Flight operates a Boeing 747-300 and a Boeing 747-400 for use by the King of Saudi Arabia.
The President, Prime Minister of Singapore and government officials typically travel on regular scheduled commercial flights run by Singapore Airlines. However, on rare occasions or short trips, government officials may travel on one of the few passenger-configured Fokker-50 operated by the Republic of Singapore Air Force.
The President of South Africa travels in a Boeing 737 (BBJ) operated by the South African Air Force’s 21 Squadron, which is based at AFB Waterkloof near Pretoria; the executive capital, i.e. the seat of the executive branch of the South African government.
The 21 Squadron also operates a fleet of two Falcon 50 and a Falcon 900B Fleet, 550/1 Citation 2, and a Global Express XRS is hired to escort the President on long flights as a back-up aircraft. The Falcon 900 is normally used by the Deputy President and high-ranking cabinet ministers.
The President of Zimbabwe travels in a charted Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767-200ER aircraft, which is part of the national airline’s fleet. Occasionally, the President will share the plane with commercial passengers on scheduled flights.
The Tanzania Government Flight Agency operates a Gulfstream G550 for VIP transports. There are two other VIP aircraft – a Fokker F-50 and F-28 for internal and regional destinations as well.
The President of Ghana flies on a Falcon EX 900 jet. The Botswana Defence Force operated a Gulfstream IV transport, but has since been sold and the Botswana Defence Force now operates a Global Express OK1. The government of Burkina Faso uses a special Boeing 727. A Falcon 900 has been added, and it is the type frequently in use now.
The Egyptian government operates an Airbus A340-200 as a VIP transport. The first presidential airplane was given as a gift from Saudi Arabia to Egypt.
The Pope is one of the richest and famous men on earth. He is the Head of the Catholic Church that has followership all over the world. Typically, the Pope flies on a chartered Alitalia fixed-wing aircraft when travelling to or from more distant destinations. Traditional protocol dictates that a Pope flies to a country he is visiting on a chartered Alitalia jet and to return on a jet belonging to a flag carrier from the visited nation; this may vary when he is touring multiple nations.
The Nigerian Presidential Air fleet is being maintained by over 10 billion Naira budget yearly. Poor states like Osun, Gombe, Ebonyi, Ekiti get less than two billion Naira every month from the Federal Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission as allocation. The presidential fleet is the third largest aircraft fleet in the country, coming behind Arik, which has 22, and Aero Contractors, which has 14. The Presidential Air fleet has 10 aircraft. They include two Falcon 7X jets, two Falcon 900 jets, Gulfstream 550,one Boeing 737 BBJ (Nigerian Air Force 001 or Eagle One), Gulfstream IVSP.
Others are one Gulfstream V, Cessna Citation 2 aircraft and Hawk Siddley 125-800 jet.
Each of the two Falcon 7X jets purchased in 2010 cost $51.1m, while the Gulfstream 550 costs $53.3m. However, airline CEOs put the average price of Falcon 900 at $35m, Gulfstream IVSP at $40m, Gulfstream V at $45m, Boeing 737 BBJ at $58m; Cessna Citation is $7m and Hawker Siddley 125-800 at $125-800 at $15m.
The question before us is, can we maintain the Presidential Air fleet in the face of our dwindling economy? The answer is no. The alternative is to sell some of the aircraft so as to reduce cost. It is even cheaper to charter planes for some of our top officials than to maintain the Presidential Air fleet as it is now.
The other angle is to let the Nigerian Air Force face other challenges, instead of the present rivalry among senior officers over postings to the presidential air fleet. I think we have many projects to tackle, besides the temporary comfort of our leaders. All these are for the consideration of the in-coming government of Major-General (rtd.) Muhammadu Buhari.
In his Essays of Innovation, Francis Bacon wrote: “And he that will not apply New Remedies must expect New evil; for time is the greatest innovator.”
•Teniola, a former director at the Presidency, stays in Lagos.