IT must be stated clearly that aviation authorities have statutory rights to decide which aircraft flies. They can also impose sanctions for infractions, in line with the law.
The controversy generated over grounding the Rivers State plane (often called Governor Chibuike Amaechi’s plane: he is the user not the owner) should recognise the powers of the authorities to regulate the skies and the craft that fly them.
Where there are reasons to ground a plane, the authorities should do it primly. Clarity is crucial in regulatory matters. If the authorities worked that way, they would be receiving plaudits, not the damaging insinuations.
What raised eyebrows is the manner of the regulation. The authorities seemed to have grounded the aircraft before deciding the owner allegedly violated the law. It ook a lot of probing for them to explain their actions.
The plane was detained on arriving Akure from Owerri and the pilot was accused of not filing a flight plan. He proved he did. Why was the plane then held? An additional charge, related was that there was no manifest, a disclosure of the passengers in the plane. The pilot said he filed it.
Next was the allegation that the aircraft was not airworthy. There was proof to the contrary. The authorities fished for another flaw.
They brought the ownership of the aircaft to question. Though there was no reported case of a stolen or missing aircraft before them, they claimed that the plane belonged to the Bank of Utah which had a trusteeship deed with the Rivers State Government. Did Rivers State steal the plane?
What cast doubts on the reasons for grounding the plane is the processes. Do the regulators have channels for communicating infractions? Were they employed in this case?
If an aircraft was running out of its licensed period are there no warnings to the owner? Were the warning issued to Bank of Utah, which the authorities said is the owner? Was the aircraft airworthy from Port Harcourt to Owerri, then its licence terminated in Akure?
A major revelation of this incident is that aviation regulators seemingly work harder than the public appreciates. They are on their desks on weekends (the public would be delighted) monitoring safety, possibly of commercial planes too. The Rivers State aircraft was grounded on Saturday 27 April!
However, the authorities cannot implement the law by implementing it haphazardly. There are consequences. What they claim is a simple regulatory matter has been mismanaged to the point that Governor Amaechi and the President’s politics has been dragged into it.
The dangers are obvious. The new aviation policy — an amendment of the regulations after 12 years — is being pilloried. Its position on private planes is now seen as an extension of the fight against the Rivers State Governor.