OAS Helicopters, the company which manages the controversial helicopter that was meant to fly the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, but was denied clearance by the Nigeria Airspace Management Authority (NAMA) on Friday has attributed the incident to the overzealousness of the controllers who wrongly ordered the pilot to return the helicopter to the airport in Benin when it was meant to land at the Government House,Benin, where it used to land in the past without resort to the airport.
The governor was supposed to travel to Awka, the Anambra State capital, to attend the burial of Senator Ben Obi’s wife, Colette, but the trip was terminated as the controllers at the Benin airport recalled the helicopter and delayed it for about two hours.
Informed source from OAS Helicopters told THISDAY Saturday that the aircraft did not go or intend to go to Benin Airport initially, but Nigeria Airspace Management (NAMA) control tower ordered it to fly to the airport.
The source explained that helicopter pilot is not required to stop at every airport it flies past to pay for charges and as helicopter, it could operate to its destination without landing at any airport and later pay charges for radio communication service which NAMA rendered to it.
“You are not required to stop and pay at every airport on your route of flight, which explains the argument between the pilot and the tower as to why he should fly to the airport. If the aircraft had landed at Benin airport initially, it would never have been cleared to take off in the first place without the necessary payments. The aircraft flew to the government house to pick the Governor and continue to Anambra. In a case like that you are only required to maintain communication with the control tower in route or the airspace of your vicinity, in this case Benin tower. And from what we have heard so far the pilot was on radio contact with Benin Tower.
“In such case, radio communication fee are usually mailed to the operator at the end of every month, and that’s what the pilot referred to when he said ‘we usually pay later.’ There is nothing anywhere that says you must stop at every airport in your route and file flight plan or pay charges except if you land in that facility. So, filing of flight plan in this case became necessary once the aircraft was made to land at the airport, which it never intended.”
On whether the action was politically motivated, the source said: “About the political witch hunt suggestion; I don’t really see that here. If anybody instructed the tower to do so, the aircraft would never have been allowed to depart Lagos in the first place.
Or when the pilot informed the tower about his intention to land at the government house, they would have denied him the request.
“Since the tower controller acknowledged his landing at the government house and even went further to permit a start-up to allow him airborne out of the government house and later, when already airborne, requested him to fly back to the airport, it seems to me like a case of over zealousness on the part of the controller; an afterthought towards the enforcement of manifest submission emphasised in the new policy. But I think that anyone who want to emphasis such policy to a point where a state governor is made to come to the airport to declare himself in a local flight would have a Herculean task.”
Meanwhile, NAMA has denied that it grounded the helicopter; rather, it was delayed.
Speaking to journalists in Lagos, NAMA’s Public Affairs Manager, Supo Atobatele said the flight was only delayed as a result of its Korean pilot’s failure to produce flight plan and passenger manifest as prescribed by law.
He explained that the agency acted professionally in their responsibility in ensuring that the AOS Helicopter Pilot files his flight plan, before lifting from Benin to Awka.
Udoh, noted that the safety and security related issues raised by NAMA Air Traffic Controllers viz-avis, filling of a flight plan and passenger manifest had no political undertones at all, but purely an aviation matter bothering on rules and regulations.
He emphasised that NAMA as a matter of rules need to know where the aircraft was going and how many people were on board, stressing that NAMA is by statue covered by legislation to demand for the flight plan which the pilot or his employer failed to comply with.
“This is a global acceptable procedure for a pilot to do before getting a startup. When this is not done, there will be delays, while perfecting your documents at the point of departure. It was a minor issue that should not be given any political coloration as being portrayed now, NAMA is never political in discharging her duties.”