Festus Keyamo, minister of aviation, says that the pilots who flew the United Nigeria Airlines wet lease flight were foreigners who were not familiar with Nigerian terrain.
A wet lease is any leasing arrangement whereby a person agrees to provide an entire aircraft and at least one crew member.
The minister made this known on Monday during a meeting with heads of regulatory agencies over safety concerns in the aviation industry.
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On Saturday, a United Nigeria flight destined for Abuja on Saturday landed in Asaba, Delta state capital. A few hours after the incident, United Nigeria claimed the flight was diverted to Asaba due to bad weather.
On Monday, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had said it commenced an investigation into the diversion of the United Nigeria flight. Speaking on the issue, Keyamo said the ministry has taken precautionary and preliminary steps due to the incident.
He said the ministry has listened to the transcript from the tower to the pilot, as released by the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), adding that all pilots on the plane were foreigners.
Keyamo said from the transcript heard, the tower kept asking the pilot to confirm again that the plane was heading to Abuja, not Asaba — the pilot replied that he was going to Asaba.
“It was clear that when the pilot was taking off from Lagos, he was headed to Asaba, not Abuja. Whereas the flight was headed to Abuja. There was no weather problem in Abuja. It was a question of a wet lease where the pilot and the crew were all foreigners, not Nigerians.”
He added that they (the pilots) were not familiar with the Nigerian terrain, adding that it was purely an in-house administrative issue.
Keyamo said the dispatcher and those involved in the incident have been interviewed and sanctions will be meted out as required.
“WET LEASES MUST HAVE NIGERIAN PILOT”
Keyamo said an agreement has been reached by aviation agencies that all wet leases must have a Nigerian pilot for every flight. He said the incident has opened the eyes of regulators to new steps they must take.
The minister said he has “spoken with them we have all agreed that wet leases coming into Nigeria, you must have a Nigerian pilot seated at least on the jump seat — must be sitted there with the foreign pilot”.
“A Nigerian pilot must be there with them in the wet leases even if it is for a few hours,” he said.
“I have also directed NCAA that within the next 72 hours, they should summon all pilots and crew who are operating wet leases in Nigeria for further briefing because the lives of Nigerians were at stake. They are flying Nigerians and our sacred duty is to protect Nigerians.
“On that plane were innocent souls that they took to another destination that they do not have plans to go. There was no weather problem.” Keyamo said if regulators within the airlines’ fold fail in their aircraft assessment duty, NCAA should withdraw their licences and blacklist them.
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