An offer by United Kingdom authorities of London Stansted and London Gatwick airports as slots access to Nigeria and West Africa leading carrier, Air Peace, has offended the Nigerian airline which insists that slots be made available to it at the ultra-busy London Heathrow for its much envisaged Lagos-London-Lagos operations.
The routing arrangement, which analysts say should normally fall under Nigeria-UK BASA deal since British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, two UK airlines, are already taking advantage of it with daily slots in Lagos and Abuja, has seen Air Peace complaining for at least 18 months about the UK authorities dragging their feet over the slots access issue.
The matter also drew the attention of rights lawyer Femi Falana, who called for the suspension of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic flights to Nigeria until the UK authorities granted slots to Air Peace.
The airline only recently obtained the UK Third Country Operator (TCO) authorization.
‘Heathrow or nothing’
Following the recent approval to fly to the UK, the country’s aviation authorities have proposed Air Peace to run flight operations from either London Stansted (STN) or London Gatwick (LGW). Both airports are on the UK’s list of the top five busiest. However, the chief executive of the airline, Allen Onyema, rejected the offer by the UK authorities, citing the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA).
Onyema is reported as advocating for Air Peace to establish service to a ‘primary airport,’ emphasising that UK carriers, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, possess the capacity to operate flights from Nigeria’s primary airports, including Muhammed International Airport (LOS) and Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport (ABV).
When discussing the choice to decline the offer, Onyema is quoted as saying:
“It took seven years for them to come and do the audit. Now we have got the approval. The next thing is slots, and they are telling us to go to [go to] London Stansted or take London Gatwick. I’m not going to Stansted or Gatwick. You come to the primary airport in Nigeria, and by BASA, you enjoy the two primary airports. So, you will give me your own primary airport. It must be Heathrow or nothing.”
This is not the first instance of Nigeria and the UK having a disagreement regarding LHR slots. In 2011, Nigeria threatened to revoke permission for British airlines due to Arik Air’s inability to secure slots at Heathrow. Air Peace is currently the sole Nigerian carrier authorised to operate in the UK.
Why are LHR slots so valuable?
The most coveted airport slots in the UK, and indeed among the most sought-after globally, are located at LHR. Heathrow stands as one of the world’s busiest aviation hubs, accommodating over 60 million passengers annually.
Known for its extensive global connectivity terminals tailored for major airline alliances, securing access to LHR slots is a significant milestone that elevates an airline’s presence in the industry.
In congested airports like LHR, the number of new slots available is very limited. With slot demand here vastly exceeding supply, the market has become furious. One of the most expensive deals to make media attention was the purchase in 2016 of a pair of slots by Oman Air from Air France-KLM for $75 million. Similarly, top prices were paid in 2015 by American Airlines, $60 million for a pair of slots from SAS.