IT took too long for the government of Nigeria to call the British to order on the issue of bilateral air agreement. We hope the momentum is sustained until the British understand what bilateral agreements mean.
For years, British Airways flew into Kano, Lagos and later Abuja. It even tried to get a frequency into Port Harcourt and for more than a decade, it ran domestic services in Nigeria through a domestic airline that is now dead.
In those years, the British would hear nothing about Nigeria getting more frequencies into London. They aided the demise of Nigeria Airways and each time bilateral agreements came up, they offered the Manchester airport, claiming London was crowded.
Nigerian airlines faced stiff conditions in getting into London, while the Nigerian routes remained the most profitable for British Airways, which dominated them. It dictated terms and felt it was in charge. Government ignored complaints from Nigerian aviation officials, travellers, and domestic airline operators who wanted to get into the London route.
It is sad that Nigeria had to wait this long. All the same, retaliating after British Airways elbowed Arik out of its space at London Heathrow is better than the indifference of the past. While it was chasing a Nigerian airline out of London, British Airways forgot that without the Nigerian routes its operations would run at a loss. An action on British Airways was long overdue.
The insistence of the Ministry of Aviation on British Airways reducing its London-Lagos flights frequency from weekly to thrice a week should be the first in a series of actions to strengthen Nigeria’s hands when the next round of negotiations of the bilateral agreements begin.
Nigeria should not succumb to the guile of the British who wants to benefit from the routes during the end of year high season. No extensions should be granted to British Airways without restoration of the rights taken away from Arik, the only Nigerian carrier on the route.
What is the point of having bilateral agreements if one party can act arbitrarily? Of the 21 weekly frequencies in the agreement, the Nigerian side through Arik exercises only 12, the remaining nine for Air Nigeria and Belleview are not used. The British use their entire slots through British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
Not only did the British take slots away from Arik, they handed them over to British Airways. How can they be so brazen and expect to get away with it?
The fight is not for Arik, it is for the right of a Nigerian business to benefit from an agreement between his country and another. If British Airways is not punished, it will continue in schemes that would result in the route being exclusive to it. Was that not how Nigeria Airways was edged out of the London route and years after, no Nigerian carrier was allowed on the route, freeing the route for the British?
Nigeria must be firm on this matter. The annual repatriation of profits from British Airways operations in Nigeria runs in millions of dollars. Nobody has queried this, yet British Airways investment in Nigeria is nil.
For once let the British know that we can hurt their interests if they treat us the way they treated Arik.