30-day ultimatum to BA, Virgin Atlantic, others not negotiable

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Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah

Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah

The federal Government, yesterday, reiterated its warning to British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways and other foreign airlines operating in the country to take advantage of the 30-day ultimatum given them to dismantle their fare disparity or face the repercussion.

Government’s reaction came against the backdrop of last weekend’s declaration by British Deputy High Commissioner to the country, Mr. Giles Lever, that Nigeria had no legal rights to ban the British carriers over fare disparity.

Lever had in an online interview with a national daily (not Vanguard) contended that a ban on either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic would amount to a breach of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA, between both countries.

Reacting through her Special Adviser, Media, Mr. Joe Obi, Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, said the issue at stake had nothing to do with legality or illegality, stressing that what was on the table was the need for all foreign airlines to restructure their fares to reflect the BASA their countries had with Nigeria.

She said the British government would know whether Nigeria had the powers to sanction British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways on the expiration of the 30-day ultimatum on April 25, 2012.

The minister said: “We don’t want to join issues with the British government; we are dealing with the airlines and have given a 30- day deadline. It will be in their own interest to either come for negotiation before the expiration of the ultimatum or face the repercussion.

“At the end of the deadline, if they remain adamant, they will know whether or not we have powers to do what we are doing. There is nothing in the Bilateral Services Agreement that says Nigerians should pay more than passengers from other countries in West Africa.”

The genesis

The disagreement over fare disparity between the Federal Government and Britain triggered off in the last quarter of last year, following the denial of slot allocations to Arik Air on its Abuja-London operation at Heathrow Airport in London.

Consequently, government threatened to ban British Airways operations into the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, as a retaliatory measure and also called for immediate dismantling of unfair fare structure to bring to par fares charged in Nigeria to those in other West African countries, especially Ghana where fares are relatively lower, and this prompted the intervention of the British government which called for a negotiation.

At the negotiation, representatives of the British government begged for an extension of time to enable them conduct an independent study of the fare regime in Nigeria, compared to the fare structure in other countries of the region and promised to get back to the federal government on December 31, 2011.

The 30-day ultimatum

However, government got no word from its British counterpart, prompting the Minister of Aviation to issue the 30-day ultimatum to all foreign airlines, especially BA and Virgin Atlantic Airways, to dismantle their current fare structure in Nigeria to reflect equity with other countries in the region or face a ban.

Issuing the ultimatum March 25, 2012, Aviation Minister, Princess Oduah, lamented that the British government had adopted delayed tactics to wear out the issue at stake, to the extent that the British carriers would carry on business as usual, based on the offending fare structure.

Stakeholders declare support

So far, some professional bodies in the country and stakeholders in the aviation sector have declared their avowed support for government over its determination to enthrone a fare structure for air travellers in Nigeria by the foreign airlines.

Only last week, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, offered free legal services to government in cases of litigation or review of treaties and bilateral agreements signed with other countries.

NBA President, Mr. Joseph Daudu, SAN, when he led a delegation recently to the minister in her office in Abuja, condemned the disparity in the fares charged passengers travelling from Nigeria to the UK and those travelling from Accra, Ghana.

He commended the effort of the minister to stop the unfair treatment of Nigerians by foreign airlines.

The NBA boss insisted that any investor who did not treat Nigerians with respect and dignity would be shown the way out.

The two arms of the National Assembly have also voiced their opposition to the unfair fare structure of the foreign airlines, vowing to ensure that the British carriers, particularly, were sanctioned should they fail to review their fares.

 

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