As UK denies Air Peace London frequencies
Sade Williams/Business a.m.
A call has been made for the suspension of flight operations into Nigeria by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, two UK carriers, over the refusal of the authorities in the United Kingdom to grant flight frequencies to Nigerian carrier, Air Peace, the largest airline across West And Central Africa by fleet size, which has been seeking to operate a Lagos-London flight or more than a year.
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The call is now being championed by Femi Falana, a leading Nigerian lawyer, a senior advocate of Nigeria and rights activist.
The lawyer-activist said the suspension of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic should be on until such a time when the carrier Air Peace is allowed to also fly on the Lagos-London route in accordance with the provisions of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) signed by Nigeria and the United Kingdom.
Speaking at the just concluded Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Conference in Abuja, Falana stated that BASA allows for reciprocity of flight operations on the route by designated airlines of both countries in line with the agreement signed by both countries and that it was out of place and unfair for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to be allowed to continue flying into Nigeria without any Nigerian airline flying to London in return.
He observed that Air Peace has proven it has the capacity to operate on international routes, adding that the airline currently flies to China, Israel, India and South Africa among others using modern aircraft comparable to those of its foreign competitors.
Falana, therefore, submitted that “If Air Peace is not allowed to fly to London, then British Airways and Virgin Atlantic should be stopped from flying to Nigeria.”
Air Peace has a fleet of modern long-haul and regional aircraft that can match those of other foreign airlines operating into Nigeria.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic enjoy 21 flight frequencies to Nigeria weekly and a BASA between Nigeria and the United Kingdom has a provision for reciprocity built into it.
Such reciprocity is often interpreted to mean that if a foreign airline enjoys seven weekly frequencies to Nigeria, the country must also make available the same frequencies for a Nigerian airline to fly to that country. Nigeria has more than 70 BASAs signed with different countries in the world but is not able to reciprocate them.
In July, at the Aviation Round Table forum held in Lagos, Allen Onyema, executive chairman of Air Peace said the authorities in the UK have refused to honour its application for frequency allocation.
No Nigerian airline currently operates into the UK, although they have done so in the past. The lucrative route is therefore left to foreign airlines to take full advantage.
It is yet not clear the exact motives behind the UK authorities denying Air Peace frequencies into London, although there had been hints that one reason is because in the past airlines given frequencies from Nigeria had failed.
Onyema, Air Peace executive chairman, said at the forum in Lagos in July that his airline was being frustrated by the UK authorities even though it flies to China, India, South Africa and Israel.
According to him, when Air Peace wrote to the UK authorities to start operating to London, they wrote back to the airline to stop disturbing them.
He said: “Why is Air Peace not flying to London? We fly to China, India, South-Africa, we started Jeddah and Madinah. Why are we being stopped from going to London, a six-hour flight? It is a piece of cake for the kind of equipment we have got.
“They gave us a destination to go to London. We applied to go to London but they denied us. What reason? They said because the previous airlines failed and so what?
“They stopped us for the four years we have been applying. Until Capt. Musa Nuhu, the director-general, civil aviation, now said enough is enough. They wrote Air Peace telling us, ‘stop writing to us, when we are ready, we will tell you’ and they are doing 21 frequencies into our country. As I speak to you, they have not contacted us in the last three months. Since last year we have been doing this.”