Pay compensation or face consequences, FG warns BA, Virgin Atlantic
By Kenneth Ehigiator, Vanguard, November 18, 2011
LAGOS — The Federal Government, yesterday, dared British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways to refuse to compensate Nigerians for their unfair method of competition, deceptive practices and violation of Nigerian law and be prepared to face the consequences.
Government had, through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Wednesday, ordered the two British carriers to pay $235 million to Nigerians as compensation.
But government’s latest tough stance on the issue arose out of the defiant response of British Airways which rejected the order amid declarations that it would vigorously defend its position on the matter.
BA had said in a statement last night: “We reject the allegations made by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and we are vigorously defending our position. We remain committed to Nigeria and have been flying there for more than 75 years. We pride ourselves on offering competitive fares, a choice of products and connections to our Nigerian customers.”
But speaking with Vanguard on the telephone last night, Director-General of the NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren, insisted that the two British carriers must pay up, but said government was keeping to its chest what action to take if the airlines failed to obey the directive.
He noted that if the British Airways could pay compensation ordered by the US government as a result of its illegal fuel surcharge imposed on American citizens, it must pay up in Nigeria.
He said: “They charged them for unnecessary fuel surcharge in America and they paid, why shouldn’t they pay here? Their unnecessary fuel surcharge on Nigerians is a rip off. We must protect Nigerians’ interest.
“We are opposed to unfair, discriminatory and abuse of dominant position. We must protect our citizens. The Nigerian market is open to exploration but opposed to exploitation.”
He noted that commercial air operations was founded on reciprocity between and among countries, stressing that a situation where some airlines now dominate others in violation of laid down principles was not acceptable.
Asked what government would do should the two airlines refuse to heed its order, Demuren said: “You wait and see what happens. We are keeping what we will do to our chest but they must pay.” That is our position.”
The row between Nigeria and Britain started earlier in the month, following the muscling of Arik Air out of Heathrow Airport in London through slot allocation, a move that was said to have been instigated by British Airways, and this compelled the Nigerian carrier to shut down its Abuja-London operation on October 29.
As a retaliatory measure, the federal government immediately slashed British Airways’ frequencies on its Lagos-London operation to three from seven.
Consequently, officials of both countries have been locked in marathon negotiations which have remained inconclusive.
The Nigeria, UK BASA row
On November 18, 2011 · In Editorial
FOR ages, especially since the once prosperous Nigeria Airways sank into oblivion, Nigerian air travellers to foreign countries have routinely suffered untold hardship in the hands of foreign airlines.
The British Airways (BA) has always stood out as the worst culprit. Nigerian travellers have always complained and nobody seemed interested in addressing their grievances.
The situation boiled over recently when British Airways, in contravention of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) signed between Nigeria and the United Kingdom, unilaterally cut the frequency of flights of Nigeria’s foremost carrier, Arik Air, to London Heathrow Airport from seven to three, while it continued to enjoy its own seven slots on the same route. BA apparently took the step as “retaliation” for Arik’s lower charges, which yielded for the Nigerian carrier a larger and increasing number of customers, some of whom were BA’s regular flyers.
Arik raised the alarm, and for once, the Ministry of Aviation rose in defence of our national interest. BA’s slots were also slashed to three on its weekly London-Lagos route. In addition, BA is now to arrive in Lagos by 6.00 am as opposed to 6.00pm, same as Nigerian carriers, which are required by the British authorities to enter London in time for the start of business everyday. BA is also now to depart for London by 11.30pm.
The Minister of Aviation, Princess Oduah Ogiemwonyi, has also directed that all British carriers, particularly BA, must eliminate the discriminatory regional tariffs, which see Nigeria-bound travellers paying far more than their peers travelling to nearby countries over equivalent distances.
As a result of these steps, BA lobbied the British Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron, to intervene on its behalf. The British leader contacted President Goodluck Jonathan seeking a resolution of the row, upon which the president directed the Minister, Ogiemwonyi, to grant one week extension to BA to enable the two countries iron out their differences.
Even though some commentators, especially experts in the industry have sharply criticised aspects of the measures imposed on BA, especially with regard to the length of time their planes have to stay on ground before returning to London, Nigerians are full of appreciation for the uncommon responsiveness of the federal government to a measure that not only threatened our economic national interests but also added to the longstanding tradition of dehumanisation of Nigeria travellers by BA.
The brazen disrespect for the terms of the BASA by the British side and BA’s treatment of Nigerians as if they are still under their colonial subjugation had to be halted sooner than later. We commend the Nigerian authorities for taking the bull by the horn. We hope by the time the ongoing negotiations by the two sides are concluded. Nigerian travellers and national carriers can look forward to fairer and more dignified treatment. That is what good governance is all about.
We join stakeholders in the aviation sector to call for total overhaul of the BASA pacts that Nigeria has entered into with foreign countries, which are known to be generally to the disadvantage of Nigerian carriers. There are abundant evidences that this situation is so because some top officials within our aviation industry are involved in unholy collusion with these foreign interests to the detriment of our national interests.
We therefore urge the federal government to go beyond this tit-for-tat exchange with BA and look into the industry to identify the bad eggs that have made it possible for foreign airliners to hold our people to ransom in flagrant violation of the BASA’s.
More efforts must be applied to ensuring that Nigerians are given courteous services on air routes between some of these Western countries and Nigeria. We hope this highly commendable proactive response by government to this outrage is not a flash in the pan.
We hope it is part of bold step towards repositioning our aviation industry in line with our aspiration to emerge among the most developed economies of the world within the next nine years