The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has received the first of two Alenia Aeronautica ATR 42MP maritime patrol aircraft ordered in 2007 in a US$73 million deal that included pilot and systems operator training as well as logistic support and spares.
Alenia Aeronautica says the second aircraft is currently being fitted out at its Brindisi facility and will be handed over this year.
The contract for two aircraft, which was signed in March 2007, covers the provision of pilot and operator training on the basic aircraft at the ATR Training Centre in Toulouse, France, as well as the maritime patrol (MP) conversion training on the aircraft and the mission system at the Alenia Aeronautica Training Centre at the Caselle South site in Turin, Italy.
The aircraft will be based at Benin City. Delivery of the first aircraft was late last month.
The Daily Trust newspaper last February quoted NAF Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin as saying the aircraft would deployed to combat the activities of pirates and other criminal elements in the Bight of Benin.
The NAF 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.
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”.
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, 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 … 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 as saying the NAF would be purchasing additional aircraft.
The Nigerian ATR 42MPs is similar to that in service with the Italian Guardia di Finanza. It is 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 have a hatch that can be opened in flight on the cabin floor for SAR and air-drop use.
Pic: An ATR 4MP of the Italian Guardia di Finanza