The Federal Government is building a helipad in Daura, Katsina State, in order to ensure a direct flight for President Muhammadu Buhari whenever he visits his country home.
The helipad, THISDAY was informed, will save President Buhari the hassles of embarking on a road journey from Katsina Airport. A source informed THISDAY on Saturday that the helipad when completed will make it easy to fly the President in one of the Presidential helicopters straight to Daura and by-pass Katsina Airport completely.
“I can tell you that right now, they are building a Helipad in Daura and when it is completed he doesn’t have to fly to Katsina Airport again. Helipad is a kind of landing for Helicopters”, the source said.
Also speaking to THISDAY, the source confirmed that presently there are only six functional Aircraft at the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF).
“The maximum number of functional planes we have right now is six and out of that six there is a high usage for it. Consider that last week in one day, the President used one to Katsina, the Vice President used the other one to Lagos, and the Senate President used the third one to meeting President Olusegun Obasanjo at Abeokuta via Lagos and later to Ilorin, Kwara state.
“The thing is that all these while, even under the previous government we only have six serviceable Presidential aircraft,” the source noted.
THISDAY had earlier reported that President Buhari has directed that nine of the VIP transport aircraft under the presidential fleet should be sold as part of the federal government’s cost-saving measures.
The Presidency has since denied such directives but industry sources also informed THISDAY that the presidential fleet, which are registered as Nigerian Air Force aircraft, is one of the largest in Africa and the third largest in Nigeria after Arik Air and Aero Contractors.
Although information on the exact size of the fleet is treated as classified information, the fleet, according to aviation sources, is believed to comprise about 16 aircraft, chief of which is the Boeing 738 BBJ, NAF 001 or Eagle One, used by the president for his travels.
With its luxury configuration comprising a master bedroom, washrooms and showers, a conference and dining area, and a living area, the plane seats 25 to 50 passengers and would cost at least $100 million to replace today.
Eagle One can spend 12 hours in the air, covering 11,489 kilometres or 6,200 nautical miles.
In addition to the Boeing 733 reserved for the president, the fleet boasts two Gulfstream 550 jets. The Gulfstream 550 can seat eight to 18 passengers, depending on the configuration, and has a cruiser range of 12,501 kilometres or 6,750 nautical miles. A new luxury Gulfstream 550 would cost an estimated $53.5 million.
According to Wikipedia, other planes in the Nigerian Air Force VIP transport fleet include two Dassault Falcon 7X jets, one Hawker Siddeley 125-800 and one Cessna 550 Citation II.
Information from a Nigerian web portal and Nigerian Air Force sources further revealed that the fleet also boasts two Dassault Falcon 900 jets, a Gulfstream IVSP, a Gulfstream V, a Dornier Do 228, which can carry 19 passengers, one Beechcraft King Air B200, and three Augusta Westland AW139 helicopters.
Sources said each of the two Dassault Falcon 7X jets were purchased for $51.1 million in 2010, while the Gulfstream 550 costs $53.3 million.
Aviation experts also put the average price of the Falcon 900 at $35 million; Gulfstream IVSP at $40 million; Gulfstream V at $45 million; Cessna Citation at $7 million; and the Hawker Siddeley at $15 million.
THISDAY also discovered that though all the aircraft are under the presidential fleet, about eight of the planes are reserved strictly for the president. These are the Boeing 737, the two Gulfstream 550 jets, the Gulfstream V jet, two Falcon 7X planes, the Hawker Siddeley aircraft and one Augusta Westland chopper.
Others are reserved for executive airlift. Aircraft used for this function include the two Falcon 900 planes, the Dornier, the Cessna Citation, the Beechracft King Air, and two Augusta Westland choppers.
Aircraft reserved for executive airlift are used by the Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and could be used to convey African heads of states visiting or departing Nigeria.