As the 30-day ultimatum issued to foreign airlines plying the Nigerian route to end their fare disparity or risk a ban approaches, Nigerian aviation officials have ratcheted up their rhetoric, saying they are ready to fight to the end to stop fare disparity.
“Nigeria will not be short-changed anymore, we mean business on this and we are going to pursue this to the end,” the Director General of the regulatory Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, told journalists in the commercial city of Lagos.
”Our market is open to exploration but closed to exploitation. We have about 30 days to do this. All of these are covered in BASA (Bilateral Air Services Agreement). You know the foreign airlines, they like creating regional imbalance.
”If you look at it critically, you will discover that foreign airlines only sell the high fares in Nigeria and they sell the low ones in Ghana. We must stop this regional imbalance, we must support our own airlines,” he said.
According to Nigerian aviation authorities, the difference between fares Nigerians are made to pay on the Lagos-London-Lagos route and what Ghanaians pay on the Accra-London-Accra route is US$4,239 for first class, US$1,055 on business class and US$92 on premium economy.
The disparity has angered the officials and most Nigerians alike, and forced the Minister of Aviation, Ms Stella Oduah, to issue the ultimatum.
It has also prompted public hearings by the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation.
Britain, which has two airlines plying the Nigerian route (British Airways and Virgin Atlantic), has vowed to retaliate if Nigeria bans the airlines.
British Deputy High Commissioner to the country, Mr. Giles Lever, warned that Nigeria had no legal rights to ban British carriers over fare disparity, and that a ban on either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic would amount to a breach of the BASA between both countries.
The Nigerian Aviation Ministry has shrugged off the British reaction, saying in a statement: “We don’t want to join issues with the British government; we are dealing with the airlines and have given a 30-day deadline. It will be in their own interest to either come for negotiation before the expiration of the ultimatum or face the repercussion.
“At the end of the deadline, if they remain adamant, they will know whether or not we have powers to do what we are doing. There is nothing in the Bilateral Air Services Agreement that says Nigerians should pay more than passengers from other countries in West Africa.”
Meanwhile, foreign and local airlines operating in Nigeria will, in 30 days time, begin to pay heavy fines and compensations for flight delays, cancellations, lost baggage
and other related anomalies under a new set of rules introduced on Wednesday by the NCAA.
The new rules, entitled, “Passengers’ Rights Regulations,” were introduced in Lagos Wednesday at a stakeholders’ forum attended by representatives of all foreign and domestic airlines operating in the country.
Dr. Demuren, who read the proposed rules to the operators, said they would become operational in 30 days’ time, adding that the 30-day notice was to allow the operators and other stakeholders make necessary contributions and protests, where necessary, before the rules take effect.