Foreign affairs Minister, Mr Olugbenga Ashiru has accused foreign airlines operating in the nation’s airspace of being exploitative with the huge airfares charged Nigerians when compared with other routes in Africa.
The minister made the remark when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Aviation investigating the violation of aviation laws and practices by foreign airlines in Nigeria and lapses in the operation of the regulatory agencies.
According to the Minister, “a 6hour first class/business class flight from Lagos/Abuja to London ranges from $11,000 to $12,000 while a 12hour, first class or business class flight from Johannesburg to London cost $6,000.” “Why is this “he further asked, quipping that “this is nothing but exploitation by the foreign airlines.”
Mr Ashiru demanded an explanation form the airlines on why Nigerians are made to pay such high fares.
The Nigerian envoy also blamed regulatory agencies in the aviation industry for the disparity in fares charged by airline operators in the country. He noted that the regulatory agencies refused to moderate and ensure uniform fares among all operating airlines.
BA and Virgin’s airfare collusion
However, Director-General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, accused British Airways of colluding with Virgin Atlantic Airways to exploit Nigerians by engaging in price-fixing.
Dr Demuren, told the public hearing that “BA and VAA coordinated and cooperated in fixing, periodically raising and maintaining the Passenger Fuel Surcharge (PFS) with respect to travel including to and from Nigeria.”
“The PFS, having been discovered not to be what BA and VAA portrayed it to be, was a special device that deprived the federal government of legitimate revenue that should have been derived from the statutory five per cent of the Ticket Sales Charge.”
According to him, BA and VAA had earlier admitted to the same misconduct in the US and the UK and they are already compensating travellers in those countries.
The DG also noted that the regional imbalance in airfares was no longer acceptable and both airlines should begin to make refunds to Nigerians.
Responding to the allegations, British Airways’ country manager, Mr. Kolawole Olayinka, said it was unfortunate that the profitability of the airline was being discussed in the Senate.
According to him, there is no law that the airlines should pay five per cent of the PFS to the NCAA as it did for the TSC, adding that should such legal explanation come to the notice of the airline, it would immediately comply.
The chairman, Senate committee on Aviation, Senator Hope Uzodinma said the committee will find out if any airline truly manipulated the PFS to the detriment of the Nigerian people and government.
The Senate committee also asked the aviation authority to restore the agreement which allows Nigeria and Britain equal slots and frequency for twenty-one landing slots which only the British airline enjoys full privilege while Nigeria’s flag carrying airline, Arik airline is left with only seven.
Present at the hearing was the deputy Senate president, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who lamented the lack of a national carrier and advocated the return of national airline for the country.
The House of Representatives had held similar meetings with the major players in the aviation sector, to understand why the disparity in airfare charged by foreign airlines in Nigeria compared with other countries.
The Senate Committee on Aviation had summoned the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, and all foreign airlines in the country to appear before it on Monday over alleged violation of aviation laws by the airlines.