Minister of Aviation, Mrs Stella Oduah
By Chinedu Eze
In what is considered a retaliatory move, the Federal Government has slashed British Airways’ (BA) flights to Lagos from seven times a week to three, with effect from Tuesday, November 8.
Before the flight reduction, the United Kingdom national carrier, which has operated into Nigeria for over 75 years, was flying seven times weekly to Lagos and same number of times to Abuja.
The Ministry of Aviation, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) confirmed the directive given to BA.
The Federal Government’s decision to slash the frequency of the airline to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, is not unconnected with the forced suspension of Arik Air flights to London Heathrow from Abuja by UK’s Airport Coordination Limited (ACL) which denied the Nigerian airline the landing slots it requested.
This is the second time BA has run into a storm with Nigerian authorities, the first being when the military government under Gen. Sani Abacha banned the airline from flying into the country in the heat of British opposition to his government in 1996.
With the latest directive, BA’s landing and take-off times for the airline have also been rescheduled. Instead of landing at about 5.30pm and taking off at about 10.45pm, the airline will now arrive Lagos at 6.00am and leave at 10.00am.
This will adversely affect the airline’s passengers’ connectivity in Europe as they will have to wait for long hours at Heathrow before connecting to their final destinations.
In a statement, BA said that it was doing everything possible to resolve the issue, adding that the matter was now in the hands of its home government.
“We are doing all we can to resolve this issue. The matter is now in the hands of the British Government which is speaking with the Nigerian authorities. At the moment, all flights are scheduled to operate as planned and we will keep our customers informed if there are any changes to their flights,” it said.
In the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA), which Nigeria signed with the government of Britain, both countries agreed that airlines from the UK would fly 21 times to Nigeria and vice-versa.
But while UK has British Airways and Virgin Atlantic which fully utilise these frequencies, Nigeria has only Arik Air that utilises 14 frequencies only as the airline operates from Lagos to Heathrow and from Abuja to Heathrow seven times a week each.
BA does the same from both Abuja and Lagos for the same number of flights, while Virgin Atlantic flies to Heathrow from Lagos seven times a week.
The Chairman of Arik Air, Sir Joseph Arumemi Ikhide, explained to newsmen last week that the BASA signed between the two countries was only beneficial to British carriers.
He recalled that during the signing of the agreement years ago, both governments agreed to assist airlines owned by both countries that wished to fly into each other’s airspace.
But while British carriers freely come into Nigeria without hindrances, Arik Air, the only Nigerian airline that operate into Britain, faced impediments, including the denial of slot to land at Heathrow.
Ikhide lamented that when it was time for them to fly from Abuja to London, the British government told them that there were no slots and that at that point, the airline had to rent slots from the British Midland International (BMI) at £1.4 million between 2009 and 2010, disclosing that the airline paid an initial deposit of £600,000.
He further explained that the airline paid £52,250 monthly to BMI and after the expiration of that, the company increased it to £90,000 per month and that when the airline tried to negotiate the amount, BMI refused to shift ground and later ACL, which gives slots, said that there was no more slots.
When Arik insisted, ACL gave out uncoordinated slots to Arik Air which were not good for scheduled flight operations, thus frustrating the airline out of the route.