November 15, 2011 / 8:50 PM / 8 years ago

UK, Nigeria make last ditch deal over BA flights

ABUJA, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Britain and Nigeria struck a deal on Tuesday to ensure British Airways flights continue to run daily between London and Lagos until the end of the year, the two countries said, after a dispute over landing slots and ticket pricing almost stopped flights between the nations.

Nigeria threatened last month to reduce British Airways flights between London and the West African nation’s commercial-hub Lagos to three from seven weekly. BA is owned by International Airlines Group.

Nigeria’s aviation minister, Princess Stella Oduah, had given BA and the British government until Tuesday to iron out the grievances she had over their Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA).

The dispute was close to grounding all flights between Nigeria and Britain until a last minute agreement was reached, two aviation sources told Reuters.

“The issues are being resolved and negotiations with the British government are ongoing. In the meantime BA flights will continue seven times a week to Lagos until the end of December,” said Joel Obi, aviation ministry press officer.

He said governments had negotiated to re-open flights from Nigeria’s capital Abuja to London for its flagship airline Arik Air, running seven trips a week. London Heathrow had stopped Arik from flying Abuja-London last month.

The BASA agreement allocates 21 equal flight frequencies between the two countries, which their airlines can use. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic use up Britain’s 21 return flights but Arik Air is the only Nigerian airline flying to London, allocated 12 slots a week at Heathrow airport.

After these slots were cut almost in half, Nigeria questioned why Britain was not supporting their bilateral relationship by helping with the situation.

“The point to emphasise is that the Ministry of Aviation, under the present dispensation will not stand idly by while Nigerian flag carriers are unfairly treated when BASA agreements clearly state otherwise,” said a statement from the ministry earlier this week said.

Nigeria’s aviation ministry is also unhappy at British Airways ticket pricing, which it says charges far more to fly London-Lagos than on a similar distance flight between London and Nigeria’s neighbour Ghana.

“The British government has until the end of the year to deal with some issues, namely the fare disparity between BA London-Accra and BA London-Lagos routes,” the aviation ministry’s Obi said.

But British airports and airlines are privately run and are not controlled by the government.

“On the issue of BA’s pricing policy, obviously governments can’t tell private companies what to charge, but we’re having ongoing and positive discussions with the relevant parts of the Nigerian government and others with the aim of resolving the issues raised to everyone’s satisfaction,” said a British High Commission spokesman in Abuja.

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