But for the intervention of the ministry of aviation, a charter operator, Skypower Express would have been shut out of airlift of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for the 2019 hajj.
It was gathered that the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) had in a letter dated August 2, 2019 and marked NAHCON/A1/18/III/341 arrogated to itself the power to determine who participated in hajj operations citing section 4 (a) of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (Establishment) Act 2006 as its authority.
Consequently, it directed licensing companies to patronsie only scheduled carriers or the three carriers it approved.
They were Max Air, Med-View and a Saudi-based airline, Flynas.
It was learnt that the ministry of aviation kicked against the development and directed that Skypower Express as a Nigerian carrier had met all the necessary provisions and deserved to be allowed to benefit from charters, ad hoc flights like Flynas and any other interested charter operator around the world.
The ministry, in various correspondences queried the statutory power of NAHCON to stop a charter operator from the annual exercise pilgrimage to Mecca.
A letter from the federal ministry of transportation dated July 30, 2019 and marked FMA/ATMD/0186/S.5/XIII/257 complained about the exemption of Skypower Express from operating as a charter operator during the hajj.
The letter which was signed by Mr. H. Musa, director air transport management on behalf of the permanent secretary, complained about NAHCON’s directive to licensing companies to patronsie only scheduled carriers or the three it had approved.
The letter however, referred to the subsisting BASA between Nigeria and Arabia, which confirms that airlines from both countries are allowed to enjoy charter operations whenever the need arises in accordance with the Paragraph E of the BASA arrangement.
The letter insisted that Skypower Express as one of the airlines from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia had the right to benefit from the provisions of the BASA rights, including charter operations.
It said the same right was being enjoyed by Max Air, Med-View and Flynas.
“More so, foreign airlines operating into Nigeria have always been asking for charter/ad hoc flights during high seasons like hajj, umrah, Christmas and end of the year period, which the ministry has been granting in accordance with subsisting BASA between our countries.
“Skypower Express has met all the necessary provisions, rules and regulations of Nigeria and deserved to be allowed to benefit from charter/ ad hoc flights of Nigeria,” it added.
Another letter dated August 9, 2019 and signed by the legal adviser, aviation, S.S. Liman for the permanent secretary and addressed to the chairman, NAHCON, contended that the commission lacked the power to unilaterally exclude a carrier from taking part in airlift of pilgrims without liaising with the appropriate government authorities before coordinating hajj and umrah activities.
The letter said NAHCON did not liaise with the ministry on its circulars banning airlines on charter operations during hajj operation.
It maintained that issues of civil aviation in Nigeria are decided by the ministry of aviation.
It noted that the BASA between Nigeria Saudi Arabia was misrepresented in the commission’s letter.
Liman also stated that charter services are not discriminated by the BASA, but, instead, subjects the same to the approval of the contracting parties’ aeronautical authorities.
“The decision whether or not Skypower Express or nay airline operators/companies of Nigeria should or can operate charter flight to Saudi is not for the commission to take as it is clearly beyond its mandate.
“Section 4 (i) (b) of the commission Act is referred to. That decision can only be made by the aeronautical authority of Nigeria (the Federal Ministry of Transportation),” it said.
In his reaction, the chief executive officer of Skypower Express, Capt. Muhammed Joji, said the intervention by the ministry of aviation saved the day for the situation for the airline.
He said the airline operated three flights out of Nigeria with 1,893 pilgrims.
He also said the charter airline airlifted some pilgrims from Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone while alleging corruption in the commission.
“There is too much corruption in NAHCON exercise. That place must be properly cleansed,” he said.
He further accused NAHCON of engaging in economic sabotage by giving Med-View’s pilgrims to Flynas when other indigenous airlines had the capacity to do so.
Joji said NAHCON has no right to interfere in charter operations, stressing that the Saudi authorities only recognise the ministry of foreign affairs and civil aviation authority in hajj operations.
“NAHCON has been breaking the laws all along and people have been keeping quiet. NAHOCN has no business in how an approved carrier airlifts pilgrims. Saudi Arabia recognises only two institutions in Nigeria -ministry of foreign affairs and civil aviation authority – when it comes to hajj operations but NAHCON has no business with charter operators.
“If there is any problem, Saudi Arabian authorities will only talk with foreign affairs ministry or the civil aviation authority. In that case, NAHCON operation is localised here. It has no business in Saudi Arabia. Also, NAHCON has no business in international pilgrims and that was cleared by the ministry. The ministry warned them about their interference. The foreign affairs and civil aviation authority can overrule you,” he added.