•FG threatens to review bilateral air agreements
By Chinedu Eze in Lagos and Adedayo Akinwale
The planned evacuation of Nigerians stranded in the United Kingdom has suffered a delay as British authorities denied a Nigerian airline, Air Peace, landing permit.
But in a swift reaction, the federal government yesterday said it would review all its existing bilateral air service agreements with other countries including its BASA with the United Kingdom.
The evacuation flight which was earlier scheduled to depart London Heathrow airport today is now billed for Gatwick airport tomorrow.
The spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ferdinand Nwonye, who disclosed this in a statement in Abuja yesterday, revealed that a UK airline, Air Partner will now operate the flight.
Following the refusal of the UK to grant diplomatic landing clearance to Air Peace, the federal government said it appealed to Air Peace to engage the services of an alternative airline to airlift the stranded citizens instead of refunding their payments.
Air Peace engaged Air Partner, one of the Global Air Charter companies advised by the British authorities.
“It is pertinent to note that Air Peace gracefully contracted Air Partner to operate these charter flights on its behalf at a much higher cost than the ticket fares paid by the prospective evacuees.
“In the light of the foregoing, the Federal Government wishes to extend its appreciation to the chairman and management of Air Peace Limited for their commitments and patriotism in ensuring that our stranded nationals in the United Kingdom return home safely,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, the federal government has said it will review all its existing bilateral air service agreements with other countries including its BASA with the United Kingdom.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, made this known in a statement via his Twitter handle shortly after the announcement that the British authorities refused a Nigerian airline, Air Peace, landing permit to operate a repatriation flight scheduled to depart London Heathrow airport.
In his reaction to the action of the UK authorities, the minister said, “Having been allowed to carry out one very successful evacuation of Nigerians from London at very low fares, @flyairpeace in coordination with the @NigeriaGov and full knowledge of the UK authorities scheduled two additional flights.
“All the arrangements were made including payments, only for the UK authorities to withdraw landing rights close to departure despite strong representations by the Nigerian Government including pointing out the hardship that would be caused to hundreds of Nigerian evacuees.
“Air Peace could have just refunded the passengers but exceptionally, patriotically and altruistically agreed to find an alternative carrier acceptable to the UK authorities to carry out the evacuation a day later than scheduled but for much higher fares.
“These higher fares could legitimately have been passed on to the evacuees but Air Peace bore this huge cost itself. This is to let the aggrieved evacuees know that the objects of their grievance should neither be Air Peace nor the Nigerian Government.
“They should rather be eternally grateful to Air Peace. The Nigerian Government will review its Air agreements with various countries as a result of the unacceptable treatment of Nigerian carriers during this pandemic.”
NCAA Investigates Alleged Violation of International Flights’ Ban by Emirates
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has said it will investigate the alleged violation of the ban on international flight services by Emirates’ Airlines.
The Dubai-based mega carrier has allegedly been operating scheduled flights from Nigeria, claiming the flights were evacuation flights.
The airline is said to be planning to operate scheduled flights on July 14 and 19 tagged evacuations, where it will allegedly airlift Nigerians that wish to travel from the country and connect them to other international destinations from Dubai.
In one of the advertisements by the airline’s ticket sales agent, Tour Brokers, titled, “Fly Emirates Airline from Lagos to Dubai, London, and many more destinations” sighted by THISDAY, the message said: “Fly Emirates Airlines from London on the 19th of July, 2020 to Dubai, London, New York, Toronto, Paris and many more destinations. Contact us now for your ticket – Limited seats available.”
Evacuation flights are usually organised by the embassies and airlines are contacted to airlift evacuees.
But Emirates was said to have been organising and selling tickets.
THISDAY gathered that in the inbound and outbound flights, it is largely Nigerian citizens that are airlifted from Lagos and Abuja to Dubai and from the United Arab Emirates via Dubai to the two Nigerian major cities.
Another sales agent of Emirates, wakanow.com also advertised for the July 14 flight and had the message, “Travel update! Dear Customer, We are pleased to inform you that Emirates will operate an evacuation flight from Dubai to Abuja on 14th of July, 2020,” the message stated.
A top official of NCAA explained that following the ban on international flights, approvals for flights are secured from only the Ministry of Aviation – through the Minister or anyone so delegated by him.
According to him, it is after the approval is received that the NCAA and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) will be informed.
The source also noted that according to regulation, it is the NCAA that should be informed first to review the request and then advise the ministry to give approval or not.
“Maybe the approval came from the ministry. The regulation gives the minister the powers but the ministry should have to liaise with NCAA instead of dealing with the airlines directly. But it is after the approval has been received that NCAA and NAMA are informed,” the source said.
Spokesman of NCAA, Sam Adurogboye, however, told THISDAY that the flights would be investigated, noting that the regulatory authority ought to earn revenue from such flights.
According to him, such revenue is lost now that NCAA is bypassed, if the flight operations are true.
“We will investigate it further to know what is happening. We will definitely investigate it because if they are doing that it means they are denying us revenue,” Adurogboye said.
However, the spokesman of the Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu, when contacted by THISDAY, denied that the ministry approved such flights.
“No airline has been given any approval to run scheduled international flights,” Odaudu said.