Nigeria, UK diplomatic row looms as govt cuts BA flights

“Britain may retaliate” 

NIGERIA and the United Kingdom (UK) may be heading for a diplomatic faceoff after Abuja cut British Airways’ (BA’s) seven frequencies (number of operations) to three.

The government had cut down on the European carrier’s frequency via a letter signed by the Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah-Ogiewonyi.

The new schedule is that BA which arrives at 6.00pm daily from London will now touch down in Lagos at 6.00am and remain on ground till 10pm, while the third frequency of the airline for the week departs Lagos at 23.20pm. The new schedule is now Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

A dependable source in government circles said that there “is no where you keep an aircraft at 6am on ground till 10pm. It is not done anywhere and this is primitive”.

There are indications that the UK could also retaliate against Arik Air for the same frequency for the Nigerian carrier, thereby affording Air France, KLM, Emirates, Qatar and others a huge market share.

Meanwhile, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has issued a new memo to all airlines operating in out of the country.

The circular signed by Airport Manager, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Mr. Edward Olarerin stated: “The aviation slot committee has reviewed the 2011 winter schedule for the airlines. The following decisions have been made to ease flight operations in and out of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.

“The changes include reduction in some airlines, change in arrival and departure of some flights, change of parking bay, change of check-in counters”.

The airline chief advised the airlines to adhere strictly to the new slot allocation.

The BASA agreement signed years ago, regulates commercial air transportation between both countries. Under that agreement, Britain and Nigeria agreed that each country would give each other 21 weekly frequencies for their commercial airlines.

Chief Executive, Financial Derivatives, Bismark Rilwane, said he was shocked by government’s decision to visit an agreement between two countries on an independent airline.

He described the action as counter-productive, as the UK government may equally retaliate against Nigerians.

Speaking on the issue of slot allocations, the finance expert said slots in many airports are bought at the secondary market when there are no more at the primary market.

He expressed shock that the issue was reminiscent of the military era of General Sani Abacha, which he noted was inimical to globalization and liberalization of air transport business, adding that government action had serious economic implication for Nigeria.

Another expert, Chris Aligbe said BASA entailed reciprocity just as he urged the UK government to respect agreement by giving Nigeria 21 frequencies as enjoyed by British carriers.

At the time the agreement was signed, there were no Nigerian airlines to service London from Nigeria, so the airline and some other European carriers were forced to pay royalty to the Nigerian government under a special fund known as BASA fund that has risen to over $70 million and which is held in trust for the nation by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

Just last week, Chairman of Arik Air, Sir Joseph Arumemi Ikhide expressed his frustration at having to pay for slots to land at London’s Heathrow Airport.

He explained that he had to rent landing slots from British Midland International at £1.4 million between 2009 and last year.


By Wole Shadare

-The Guardian

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