Monday, March 26, 2012

Nigerian government gives foreign airlines ultimatum

The Federal Government yesterday gave all foreign airlines operating in the country a 30-day ultimatum within which to dismantle the fare regime that sees Nigerian passengers paying higher fares than other passengers in West Africa.

Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, who issued the ultimatum in Abuja last night, said the 30-day ultimatum would start today.

This came on a day the Ministry of Aviation also sought the cooperation of the National Assembly towards the enactment of a Passengers' Bill of Rights.

It could be recalled that in the wake of the impasse between British Airways and Arik Air regarding the denial of landing slots of the latter at London Heathrow airport, the ministry had, in addition facilitating the landing rights of Arik Air in Heathrow, waded into the huge fare disparity in the sub-region and demanded fare parity from British Airways, BA, Virgin Atlantic Airways, VA, and other international airlines operating in the country.

BA and VA had particularly asked for more time to conduct its own study on the alleged fare disparity, promising to report back to the Ministry last December.

But worried by the obvious delay tactics on the part of the two British carriers, Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah, weekend said any international airline operating in Nigeria which failed to dismantle the fare imbalance and other sharp practices within the next 30 days would be banned from operating in Nigeria.

She said: "We are seriously concerned and worried by the reluctance to restore parity within the region by the foreign airlines.

They have been using all kinds of delay tactics; this is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated. Nigerian passengers do not deserve this kind of exploitation and we are willing and ready to stand up to their rights."

Oduah said Nigeria remained an important and lucrative route for the international airlines, warning that anyone not ready to treat Nigerians with equity and dignity would be barred from operating in the country.

"In the interim, we encourage Nigerian travellers to avail themselves of other competitive alternatives while we try try to address and resolve this issue once and for all," she said.

A source had told Vanguard that government's action was informed by the delayed tactics deployed by the British government on the need to resolve the issue of unequal fare regime of British carriers in their Nigerian operations, compared to what holds in other countries on the West Coast.

Government had always banked on the fact that once the two British carriers were made to toe the line, other international airlines would follow their footstep on the issue, especially considering the historical links between Nigeria and Britain.

Vanguard gathered at the weekend that the latest withdrawal of slots from Arik Air on its Abuja-London Heathrow operations, which led to the airline's suspension of flight on the route yesterday, further infuriated the government.

The British government had in the last quarter of 2011 asked the federal government to give it till December 31, 2011, to conduct a study on the fare regime of both British carriers on Lagos-London and Abuja-London routes, in relation to that of other countries in the sub-region, but failed to meet up with that deadline and called for an extension of time which, according to sources, was to enable it buy time while the two carriers continued operations unhindered.

The British government had begged for a negotiation in the heat of the row caused by the shabby treatment of Arik Air at Heathrow, when government threatened to shut down British Airways operations on Lagos-London route.

A source told Vanguard weekend that government was no longer disposed to the delayed tactics being employed by the British government, especially in the light of the resurgence of Arik Air's problem at Heathrow earlier in the month.

Announcing a re-suspension of its Abuja-London flight penultimate week, Arik Air had said: "From the inception of the route in November 2009, Arik Air has been in a slot-lease agreement with a UK carrier, leasing arrival/ departure slots on the Abuja/ London route at Heathrow.

"At the end of the summer schedule (October 2011), the UK carrier that Arik Air was in the slot-lease agreement with for this route advised the airline of its intention to sell the company and began to wind down its contractual arrangements with Arik Air. Without these commercially arranged slots, Arik Air was forced to suspend operations at the start of the winter schedule (2011).

"Immediate discussions were held by the respective governments to resolve the long-existing and underlying anomaly in the BASA. As an abridgement, the UK authorities facilitated the temporary continuation of the commercial lease of these slots in support of Arik Air's Abuja/ London, Heathrow operation.

"This interim solution was only available up until 25th March (2012). Unfortunately,despite the best efforts of both governments, there has been no solution found. The situation remains as it was at the end of October 2011 with Arik Air having no landing/arrival slots after March 2012 thus forcing it to suspend the route.

Although Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, could not be reached weekend to know what action government was taking in the next two weeks, sources at the Ministry said the operations of both British carriers might be shut in Lagos in the interim, in view of Arik Air's problems at Heathrow, and shut completely should the British government fail to respond to Nigeria's quest for a dismantling of the current fare regime which is unfavourable to Nigerians.

The Aviation Minister's aide, Mr. Joe Obi, had told Vanguard three weeks ago that though the British negotiating team on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways fare structures appealed for extension of time, on the expiration of the December 31, 2011, deadline, which was acceded to, the Nigerian government would not wait indefinitely because of the urge with which Nigerians want the issue settled.

He also said the matter bothered on public interest which government was in a hurry to resolve in the

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Aviation is putting finishes touches on a proposed Passengers' Bill of Rights which it hopes to present before the two chambers of the National Assembly soon.

The ministry, which is very optimistic that the National Assembly will lend its usual cooperation towards the swift passage of the bill, believes air passengers will have a fairer deal once the bill is passed into law.

One of the salient provisions in the proposed bill stipulates that a passenger has a right to demand compensation if his or her flight is delayed for more than one hour, out-rightly cancelled or where a passenger is denied boarding without any reasonable cause.


Related stories: Nigerian government condemns foreign airlines' practices

Nigerian government moves to restrict British airways flights to Lagos 

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