By Abubakar Yunusa
Festus Keyamo, minister of aviation, has countered a statement made by United Nigeria Airlines over the diversion of its Abuja-bound flight to Asaba, Delta state.
On Saturday, a United Nigeria flight destined for Abuja landed in Asaba.
A passenger on the flight told TheCable that the pilot announced he was given the wrong flight plan.
“People were thinking that there’s something we were not being told. Until the pilot announced to us that he received a wrong flight plan, that’s when calmness was restored,” a passenger said.
But a few hours after the incident, United Nigeria said the flight was diverted to Asaba due to bad weather in Abuja.
“A United Nigeria Airlines flight, NUA 0504, operating from the MM@ in Lagos enroute Abuja on Sunday, November 26, 2023, was temporarily diverted to the Asaba International Airport due to poor destination weather,” the airline said.
However, speaking after meeting with aviation regulators on Monday over safety concerns in the aviation industry, Keyamo said there was no bad weather in Abuja, adding that the diversion was purely an administrative issue in United Nigeria.
He said the ministry listened to the communication between the tower to the pilot, as released by the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).
According to Keyamo, 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,” Keyamo said.
“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.”
Keyamo said 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.
To forestall such an incident from repeating, 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.
The minister said the Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB) is investigating the incident, adding that he has given the bureau 10 days to submit their reports.