Nigeria To Slash British Airways’ Flights into Lagos

Minister of Aviation oduah Minister of Aviation oduah

Nov 9, 2011 – Nigeria To Slash British Airways’ Flights into Lagos

The minister of Aviation Mrs Stella Oduah said yesterday there is no going back on the slot reduction for British Airways flights into Lagos.

The ministry has given one week before implementation of the reduced frequency from seven to thrice weekly.

She said the reduction was taken to demonstrate the courage of government in reviewing Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) with many countries, which have not given fair share of the market to Nigerian carriers. According to her, government is set to bring to an end discriminatory air fares for Nigerians on many routes by the British carrier.

Mrs Oduah, who spoke through her  Technical AssistantVictor Oche, said the one week window was given to allow for negotiations.

She said: “Beyond the issue of BASA, the government is also worried over the discriminatory ticket pricing, where British Airways fares are higher in Nigeria than other countries in Africa, including Ghana and South Africa. This is unfair to many Nigerians.  Those are some of the discriminatory issues. We need to defend the right of Nigerian passengers, drive the process, and tell them that enough is enough. It has not been a fair deal with British Airways.

“Even the services of British Airways is not unusual. Nigerians have not been fairly treated by the British Airways. They have been ridiculously treated, we want to grow the local market and defend Nigerian operators. There is no going back, Nigerians need to get what they deserve.

“Basically, our clamour is that the frequency and slot allocation must be reciprocal for both Nigerian and British carriers. It is important to commend the minister of aviation for the courage and political will to carry out this directive. Former ministers lack the political will to do it.

“She has insisted that the review of the bilateral air services agreement is beyond the British Airways. We are going to look at the nitty-gritty of the whole agreement and negotiate on how it will favour Nigerian carriers.

“We have to grow own airlines to make them strong and competitive, so that local airlines can fly international routes. This is one way to check the excess capital flight out of Nigeria to the tune of billions of naira. We wish to know that BA makes over N32 billion on ticket sales in Nigeria.

“Enough is enough, there must be reciprocity in the agreement. We are not at war with the British government, we are just sorting out issues, that is why dialogue is necessary, the colonial strategy where the BASA is lopsided against Nigeria is not a healthy strategy.

‘’Negotiations are still on- going, before now, we lacked the political will, that is why we will not be intimidated or coerced to buckle under any pressure. What is signed must be agreed upon.

‘’We graciously sat with the British High Commissioner, to ask for what is Nigeria’s entitlement, after the extension, there will be to shifting of grounds.

“We only gave the one week grace because of the political diplomacy and high calibre calls. They begged for one week to comply, we are still looking at it.”

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Hope Uzodinma, also reiterated the resolve of government to ensure that the interest of Nigerian carriers are protected.

He said: “What we have with the United Kingdom (UK) is a weak bilateral air services agreement which stipulates that Nigerian carriers have 21 flight frequencies to be utilised on the UK route, which should also apply to their airlines.

Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mr George Uriesi explained that the acquisition of British Midland International by British Airways giving the British carrier over 53 per cent of slots at Heathrow Airport, London, contributed to the ouster of Arik Air from the Abuja – London route.

Uriesi said: “There is some royalty that accrues to Nigeria from the Bilateral Air Services Agreement for every frequency but that is nothing compared to the cost incurred by Arik Air. Having to buy slot at such exorbitant rate into London is unfortunate, it is not ideal.

“It is selfish for them to have disrupted the operations of Arik Air. All the talks about British Airways operations being affected by the action of government is unacceptable.

“We need to look at the balance of the whole deal, as a result of the action that has been taken, I am sure there will be some accommodation. This will be resolved without having to impact on everybody’s travel plan.”

He added: “Arik Air quietly   went to negotiate five slots a week into Heathrow from Abuja, paying about 600,000 pounds, to have the opportunity to lease the slots, and the airline was paying about 52,000 pounds per month for the operations. All of a sudden, the British authorities informed Arik Air that from the end of October, they will not be able to lease slots to the airline. Coincidentally it turned out that British Airways bought those slots.

There is a whole trade of slots going on at Heathrow. It is almost an essential commodity in the industry. One thing is to be able to access the leasing of slots, you can even buy them outright then they become yours – the other thing is to show a competitive arrangement to elbow someone out of the market. I think what is important for us, to stress is that a lot of people are watching this. Other carriers and their owner nations are watching if a Nigerian registered carrier could be elbowed out of that market, it means that other Nigerian carriers could be edged out of any other route by the authorities other than the British market.