Ten aircraft in the Nigerian PAF - Presidential Air Fleet (Abuja) (PAF) are at risk of being impounded by foreign creditors following a budget shortcoming, according to disclosures in the National Assembly by PAF Commander Air Vice Marshal Abubakar Abdullahi during his budget defence presentation last week.

The newspaper Punch reported that Abdullahi had revealed that the PAF was indebted to several service providers for various upgrades carried out on the aircraft to meet airworthiness requirements. However, due to inadequate funding, some upgrades had to be postponed to 2023, putting the airworthiness of the aircraft at risk.

The PAF provides airlift to the Nigerian president, vice-president, their immediate families, and other top government officials.

Addressing the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Abdullahi complained that only NGN1.5 billion naira (USD3.3 million) of the proposed NGN4.5 billion (USD10.1 million) budget was allocated for the maintenance of the aircraft. Abdullahi divulged that the average aircraft age in the fleet was 11 years, with maintenance costs increasing proportionally. The cost of maintenance per aircraft was between USD1.5 million and USD4.5 million, depending on the level of maintenance due.

In addition, the commander revealed that 2023, being an election year, would translate to more missions and requests for spares due to increased usage. He therefore called for an increased budget in 2023, arguing that the NGN8.072 billion (USD18.2 million) allocated for the fleet in the 2023 budget out of the proposed NGN15.5 billion (USD34.9 million) was inadequate.

In the 2022 budget, the PAF proposed NGN19.4 billion (USD43.7 million), but only NGN12.4 billion (USD27.2 million) was appropriated, out of which NGN11.13 billion (USD25 million) (98% of the total approval) had been released as of October 2022.

Abdullahi said: “It is pertinent for this honourable committee to note that the fleet has been grossly underfunded for successive years, which has made it difficult to operate. From the fleet’s records, debts from preceding years are usually carried over into the following budget year, becoming a tradition. Permit me also to state that most of these debts are owed to service providers overseas. Considering that over 85% of the fleet’s expenditure is Forex transactions, the actual budget figure in dollar terms is further diminished. The fleet is currently indebted to some of its service providers due to insufficient funding from budgetary allocations, and the situation makes it bad for planning. As stated earlier, we currently have to have some mandatory upgrades done on our aircraft so as to meet airworthiness requirements.”

He added: “They are projected for refurbishment in their next maintenance due in December 2022 and July 2023, respectively, which will cost USD2.5 million each. Furthermore, the fleet’s personnel and aviation insurance premium for the year 2022, amounting to USD5.1 million, is also due for renewal in February 2023. The fleet may be unable to fund these due to a shortfall in the budget.

“The consequences of underfunding the fleet could have adverse effects on safety operations. It may also lead to our nation being embarrassed in the international community through the seizure of PAF aircraft at foreign airports or maintenance facilities. Moreover, other states may deny PAF aircraft necessary overflight permits for foreign missions.”

The budget allocation for the PAF has increased by 121% in the past eight years. Since 2016, it has received NGN81.8 billion (USD184.4 million). This includes NGN62.47 billion (USD140.8 million) for operations and maintenance, NGN17.29 billion (USD38.9 million) for foreign and local trips, and NGN2.04 billion (USD4.5 million) for other related expenses.

The Presidency has maintained ten aircraft since Muhammadu Buhari took over in May 2015. Although Buhari promised to reduce the size of the fleet as part of his pledge to cut the cost of governance, he has failed to do so at this stage.

The fleet reportedly includes a B737-800, business jets including one Gulfstream Aerospace G550, one G500, two Dassault Aviation Falcon 7Xs, one Hawker Siddeley 4000, and two AW139 and two AW101 Leonardo Helicopters, which have been transferred to the Nigerian Air Force.