The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has confirmed it will “early” this year take delivery of two Alenia Aeronautica ATR42 Maritime Patrol (MP) aircraft.
Nigeria contracted for two unarmed ATR42MP Surveyor aircraft in 2007. The will use the airplanes to patrol the country`s offshore exclusive economic zones as well as for search and rescue and for marine environmental control.
The Daily Trust newspaper adds that NAF Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin wants the aircraft deployed to combat the activities of pirates and other criminal elements in the Bight of Benin.
Pirates are increasingly active in Nigerian and Cameroonian waters, seeing the activity as low-risk with a high return on investment. Criminal groups have also attacked offshore oil rigs while others are illegally tapping oil and other petrochemicals from pipelines in the Niger Delta for own use or reselling, a practice known as “bunkering”.
The US$73 million ATR deal includes pilot and systems operator training as well as logistic support and spares.
The aircraft will be based at Benin City.
Petinrin reportedly noted that maritime patrol is not the sole responsibility of the Air Force but should be a joint effort including all stakeholders including the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Maritime Safety and Administration (NIMASA), the Nigerian Navy, Marine Police and other stakeholders in the industry.
The Air Marshal said the two ATR aircraft as well as “two others handed over to the Air Force recently by President Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua from the presidential fleet” meant that “criminals were in for a tough time along the Nigerian territorial waterways.”
The Daily Trust further reported the air force officer assaying the NAF would be purchasing additional aircraft. “We will continue to fly and fight and by October 2009 we will showcase our activities and Nigerians will know that we are there for them and able to deliver,” he said.
An Alenia Aeronautica press release notes the Nigerian ATR42MPs will be similar to one already in service with the Italian Coast Guard. It will be equipped with a Galileo Avionica airborne tactical observation and surveillance system that includes search radar and an EOST-45 electro optic surveillance and tracking sensor.
Unlike the Italian aircraft, the Nigerian ATRs will have a hatch that can be opened in flight on the cabin floor for SAR and air-drop use.
The ATR42MP is a maritime patrol version of the turboprop ATR42 regional transport aircraft