There has been a history of UK using airport authorities to undermine Nigerian airlines in their bid to operate from Nigeria to the UK.
The London-Lagos route is the most lucrative route out of Nigeria and it is the route where an airline can have high number of passengers on direct flights. Nigerian airlines do well on the route, from Nigeria Airways Limited, the nation’s erstwhile national carrier, to others that operated the route.
Over the years, there have been attempts by UK authorities to constrict Nigerian operators using all kinds of strategies to stop them from coming to the UK, despite the fact that the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) signed between Nigeria and the UK gave both countries 21 frequencies and allow each country to have three airlines operating seven times a week flights between the two friendly nations.
But the UK authorities, knowing how profitable the route is, had always found ways to stop Nigerian carriers. In the case of Arik Air, after a dogged fight they were given Heathrow airport but when the airline wanted to reciprocate London-Abuja route, which British Airways was operating, the British Airport Authority then stopped the airline and insisted that it must buy slots to operate the route.
UK authorities went further to argue that it was begged by the Nigerian government to operate the London-Abuja route and therefore the route should not be subject to reciprocity. Arik Air eventually pulled out of the route.
In March 2012 Arik Air announced suspension of the route and explained that it “was compelled to suspend its services on the route following the inability of the UK and Nigerian governments to come to agreeable terms on the 2008 Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA).”
“Under the terms of the BASA, Arik Air was allocated seven frequencies per week in respect of the Lagos/ London, Heathrow service and seven per week for the Abuja/ London, Heathrow service. The total of 14 frequencies is out of 21 available for Nigerian carriers under the BASA.”
Obviously frustrated by the strategy to push it out of the market, the exasperated Arik Air admitted that “an anomaly exists between access to slots in the respective countries with the Nigerian government matching the allocation of slots with frequencies; therefore, giving UK carriers unfettered access to its full complement of 21 slots at Abuja and Lagos airports.
“Whilst it is regrettable to have to suspend our services between Abuja and London, we simply could not continue with the route due to the restrictions placed upon us in accessing arrival/departure slots into UK airports.”
Medview Airline even had a shorter spell on the route before it was thrown out on technicalities. First, its own aircraft was rejected from operating the route, it had hiccups in leasing aircraft to operate the route and late gave it up.
The same politics of slot is being used against Air Peace now. THISDAY learnt that the airline has met all the conditions to operate Lagos-London flights. The airline’s first choice of Heathrow was rejected and UK authorities obviously, grudgingly, gave the Nigerian carrier, Gatwick but initially stated that there were no slots for allocation. But after some push by the airline, Air Peace was given slots, which some industry observers said were almost like the airline was not given slots.
THISDAY learnt that the airline was given staggered slots. The airline was not given consistent time of arrival and departure for the days it will operate; rather, every day was given its own time of arrival and departure different from the time of arrival and departure of another day. Besides, the airline was given turn-around time that was not enough for such large-body aircraft as Boeing 777. While some turnaround time was two hours, some were a little more than one, which the airline said that it is impossible to operate.
“The slot schedule is meant to leave us disorganized. It is not practicable that you will disembark, clean the aircraft and board your passengers in just a little more than one hour for an aircraft that has over 300-passenger capacity. This cannot work. Let them treat us as we treat their own airlines that operate to Nigeria,” Air Peace spokesman, Stanley Olisa, told THISDAY.
Reacting to this development, former senior official of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and former Nigerian representative in ICAO and currently the Managing Director/CEO of Anambra International Cargo Airport, Umueri, Martin Nwafor, told THISDAY that the schedule given to the airline was not practicable and urged Air Peace to go and renegotiate the slot allocation.
“The slot schedule should take cognizance of the aircraft size, type and number of passengers. According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), there should be no discrimination in the way you treat foreign airlines that operate into your country. You treat them as you treat your own airlines. Such staccato schedule will leave them so disorganized. There should be consistency in the particular time they arrive and depart and they should treat Air Peace the way they treat their own airlines and the way Nigeria treats their own airlines.
“In the principle of reciprocity, Nigeria can start selling their own slots too. But their airlines come whenever they want and depart when they want. Nigeria does not sell slot. They sell slot because of congestion. We should discourage this maltreatment. It is the responsibility of the Nigerian government to support its own airlines because they are representing Nigeria and they are carrying Nigerian flag. BASA agreement is government to government,” he said.
He also observed that what is happening is strategy that UK authorities want to use to protect their own airlines and entrench monopoly on direct flight between the two countries by making sure that Nigerian airlines are not given the opportunity to come to the UK.
“This is all about commercial interest. When is Nigerian government going to start protecting its own? UK knows how many jobs British Airways gave the citizens; how many jobs Virgin Atlantic gave the citizens. If they are making profits, they will sustain the workforce. So, Nigeria should also start protecting the jobs of its own citizens by ensuring that its airlines operate profitably,” he further said.