By Wole Shadare
Experts urge caution, passengers may opt for Ghana
THE next couple of days may determine the fate of thousands of travellers on the lucrative Nigeria-London route as the Federal Government has maintained that it will go ahead to suspend British carriers from operating in Nigeria.
British Airways (BA) and Virgin Atlantic Airways may be stopped on April 25 from flying to Nigeria over high fares charged passengers on business and first classes.
The crisis could be serious because the United Kingdom (UK) and many parts of Europe are close to summer, a period where global traffic is expected to be on the rise.
The airlines are the first choice among premium travellers from Nigeria and together, they control about 90 per cent of traffic to London.
The Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah-Ogiewonyi, had few weeks ago given a 30-day ultimatum to foreign airlines, especially BA and Virgin Atlantic, to reduce their fares on Nigerian route or face ban. The 30-day ultimatum expires on April 25.
The spokesman to the Minister of Aviation, Toyin Opaise, told The Guardian at the weekend that “there is no shift in our position. All foreign airlines have been told to pay for excess billings. Prices must come down.”
Already, the British authorities had also warned of retaliating by evoking the principle of reciprocity should Nigeria go ahead to stop its airlines from operating in the country.
Penultimate week, Reuters had quoted the spokesman of the British High Commission in Nigeria as warning Nigeria that Britain could take ‘retaliatory’ actions should Nigeria go ahead with its threats.
By evoking the principle of reciprocity, the British authorities could also bar Nigeria’s flag carrier airline, Arik, from its airspace; a situation that could lead to huge dislocation in travel for thousands of travellers on the lucrative route.
In the event of travel crisis, many other foreign carriers may find it extremely difficult to cope with backlogs that may emanate from the period that these carriers may cease operations.
A source in government said the Ghanaian government may be willing to give the British carriers frequencies to cope with capacity on the route as there are indications that Nigerian travellers could travel to Accra for their journey.
This will further boost the economy of the West African country as the revenue from airport tax and passenger tax could double.
The President/Chief Executive Officer, Sabre Network, West Africa, a United States (U.S.)-based airline global distribution system, Mr. Gbenga Olowo, said it would be very interesting to see the two governments carry out their intention against all professional opinion come Wednesday.
According to Olowo, “the name of our current minister in particular will go into historical archive of bravery and capacity to handle dispute whose objective remains unclear and against every known economic and marketing principle.
“If no vendetta is intended against UK operators (BA and VS), then the minister is encouraged to shut down all foreign airlines operating from Nigeria into UK as they will all be presumed guilty of the so-called allegation. Coupled with the show of shame at the ongoing remodeling of Lagos airport, attending economic disruption that will follow in days will undoubtedly heat up the polity with unpredictable crisis.’’
According to the travel expert, if the foreign airlines are regarded as trading partners and have supported Nigerian economy, professional superior argument should prevail and the ban should not become necessary.
Another aviation expert, who pleaded anonymity, called on the minister to tread softly on the matter in order not to cause a diplomatic row, stressing that the British government considers highly the operations of the two carriers and would do everything to protect them.
He advised the government to channel its energy towards the revival of Nigeria Airways, rather than the arm-twisting of foreign airlines.
Meanwhile, the Country Commercial Manager of British Airways, Mr. Kola Olayinka, whose airline was accused of violating Nigerian law, maintained there was no iota of truth in the allegation.
“You did not actually tell us which laws were violated. Prices are determined by the forces of demand and supply; let more airlines come in. Let more airlines fly into Nigeria many more times,” he said.
The airline chief equally faulted allegations by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) that the airline and Virgin Atlantic fixed fuel surcharge, explaining that every airline in the world charges fuel surcharge, which according to him, is meant to recoup ever-rising price of aviation fuel.
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