President Tinubu Flys Commercial Airline As Presidential Jet Breaks Down

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President Bola Tinubu was ferried to an economic summit in Saudi Arabia by a commercial aviation operator this weekend after his main luxury jet was taken into rehabilitation and a second aircraft he was travelling with developed a technical snag in the Netherlands, Peoples Gazette learnt from officials familiar.

The Nigerian leader arrived in The Hague on April 23 for a series of economic and diplomatic engagements at the instance of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. He learnt shortly before he was scheduled to depart the Netherlands on Friday that his plane had suffered unspecified problems, officials said under anonymity to discuss sensitive details of the president’s itinerary. Another official said some of the technical complications included an oxygen leak.

President Bola Tinubu with Hans Akerboom, deputy protocol chief of the Netherlands, during departure on a chartered jet from Rotterdam. April 26, 2024.President Bola Tinubu with Hans Akerboom, deputy protocol chief of the Netherlands, during departure on a chartered jet from Rotterdam. April 26, 2024.
This forced the president and his delegation to leave behind the Nigerian government aircraft and use a charter jet company to facilitate their onward journey to Saudi Arabia for a special session of the World Economic Forum in Riyadh, arriving on Friday night.

Bellnews was told Mr Tinubu and some of his personal aides left Rotterdam on a Falcon 8X 9H-GRC private jet for the summit, which is scheduled for April 28-29. The rest, including several ministers and other high-ranking administration officials, made the trip on separate support aircraft and commercial airlines.

President Tinubu arrives in RiyadhPresident Tinubu arrives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on a chartered commercial flight. April 26, 2024.
The knotty aircraft, a Gulfstream G550 class, was originally dedicated to Vice-President Kashim Shettima. However, the president used it on his foreign trip because his own dedicated carrier, the Boeing 737 business jet class operated by the Nigerian Air Force 001, has been under maintenance for several weeks.

On March 25, the plane was taken to a maintenance facility at EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, a commercial administrative region jointly controlled by France, Germany, and Switzerland. As of Saturday night, it had not been returned to Nigeria.

The Gulfstream jet was later fixed and sent to Saudi Arabia, where it is now waiting to return the president to Nigeria after his official trip on April 29, The Gazette heard.

Vice-President Kashim Shettima arrives in Iperu-Remo. April 27, 2024.Vice-President Kashim Shettima arrives in Iperu-Remo. April 27, 2024.
The vice-president was also forced to piggyback on chartered planes for his official trips. He was in Iperu-Remo on Saturday in a private plane hired from a Lagos-based consortium.

A spokesman for the president did not immediately return a request for comments about the crisis. The Nigerian Air Force also declined to comment.

This latest incident is far from the first for the presidential air fleet. According to maintenance records reviewed by The Gazette, the Boeing 737 has been taken for extensive repairs at least seven times over the past three years.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered the plane, and Nigeria took delivery on April 14, 2005. The former Nigerian leader started using the luxury aircraft, first manufactured in 1998 and with a capacity of about 30 passengers, for his air travels on June 29, 2005. The plane has now served all Nigerian presidents in the uninterrupted Fourth Republic, advancing its reputation as one of the most iconic features of the Nigerian presidency.

Former President Muhammadu Buhari sent the aircraft for repair between late September and early October 2021. Barely two months later, the plane suffered another major fault, forcing the government to again return it for rehabilitation for nearly three months.

Records showed the plane was repaired again in early April and early May 2023 as part of efforts to get it in top shape before Mr Tinubu’s inauguration on May 29, 2023.

Bellnews learnt that over $8 million has been spent fixing the plane for different vulnerabilities since December 2022 alone. This is a significant amount for a country of 230 million with an unenviable reputation as the world’s poverty capital.

Aviation monitors have publicly decried the huge maintenance expenditure as wasteful, prescribing instead that a new plane would serve the country better, renew confidence in air travel safety for future presidents and stave off unnecessary costs that could be diverted to other crucial areas of economic development.

Whereas Mr Tinubu has managed to carry out his official duties despite a pattern of last-minute troubles with presidential planes, administration officials are nonetheless concerned that the frequent glitches, besides being immensely embarrassing for the country, could potentially inflict a catastrophe of historic proportions.

“Many of us in this administration are more concerned about the clear danger that the planes are signalling than any ridicule from their frequent breakdowns,” an official said. “We are being told that the planes are old and there should be serious consideration towards their replacement.”

Nigeria has had a near-perfect record in air travel among its leaders since the first prime minister, Tafawa Balewa, flew private with his entourage in the early 1960s, including on a trip to the United States on President John F. Kennedy’s invitation in 1961.

However, concerns among officials have simmered since February 2019, when former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo survived a crash while travelling on a chartered helicopter for a scheduled campaign event.

Although the report of a formal investigation into the crash was never made public, initial questions were raised about the helicopter’s operators’ poor maintenance culture.

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