Britain warns Nigeria over threats to ban BA and Virgin Atlantic

Channels Television  
Updated March 27, 2012

The British government on Monday warned that it would take retaliatory steps against Nigerian airlines, if the federal government bans the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic over fare disparity.

The British Airways had earlier said in a statement that all its fares were competitive and on a sound commercial basis.

Nigeria’s Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, had over the weekend threatened to ban any foreign airline which failed to adjust its fares to reflect equity with their prevailing fares as is obtainable in other West Africa countries. She gave the airlines one month ultimatum to review their fares.

Reacting to the ultimatum on Monday night, Britain said banning private airlines would amount to a “heavy-handed action that would be catastrophic.”

Consequently, Britain said it would not hesitate to retaliate if the federal government goes ahead with the threat to ban the airlines after 30 days.
Britain said only business and first class fares were more expensive to Nigerians than neighbouring West Africa countries because of high demand for those seats.

It also said banning BA and Virgin would break a bilateral air services agreement between both countries.

“It (the ban) would cause potential foreign investors to question whether they want to put their money in Nigeria and have a long-term and damaging effect on Nigeria’s growth,” a British High Commission spokesman said.

“The Prime Minister and President Goodluck Jonathan signed a joint communique last year pledging to double bilateral trade. Action against BA and Virgin would damage that strategic aim,” the Spokesman said.

The fare dispute is running parallel to another row between Nigeria and Britain over airport landing slots.

Nigeria’s biggest carrier Arik Air stopped its daily flights between Abuja and London Heathrow on Monday because it was being prevented from getting arrival and departure slots at UK airports.

“It is wrong to suggest that Arik has been prevented from flying into Heathrow. Our understanding is that Arik is just unwilling to pay for the cost of renting or buying landing slots,” the British spokesman said.

He added that it was something all airlines who want new slots into Heathrow needed to do.

Mrs Oduah had argued that it was unfair for BA and Virgin to charge more to fly Nigerian than passengers from neighbouring West African countries.
“We are seriously concerned and worried by the reluctance to restore parity within the region by the foreign airlines,” she had said in a statement.

“They have been using all kinds of delay tactics, this is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated. We will resolve this issue once and for all,” she had added.

Reacting to Mrs Oduah’s threat to ban the airline BA said: “British Airways is fully legally compliant with the requirements of the Air Services Agreement between the UK and Nigeria. We remain committed to Nigeria and continue to serve the country with daily flights to Lagos and Abuja.

“We have been flying there for more than 75 years and pride ourselves on offering competitive fares, a choice of products and connections to our Nigerian customers.

“All of our fares are set on a sound commercial basis and remain fully competitive with other carriers in the region including Arik Air.”