The Nigerian Federal Government says it will review the Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA) with various countries as a result of the unacceptable treatment of Nigerian carriers, especially since the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Geoffrey Onyeama, made this known via his verified twitter handle on Sunday following the denial of landing rights to Air Peace at London’s Heathrow Airport. Canada has also repeatedly denied Air Peace landing rights to evacuate stranded Nigerians in the country.
Nigeria has BASA, which liberalises commercial civil aviation services between nations that allows designated airlines to operate commercial flights and the transportation of passengers and cargoes; with 92 countries around the world.
While the last air agreement was signed between Nigeria and India last year (2019), five was signed with Algeria, Congo, China, Qatar and Singapore in 2018.
However, over the years, stakeholders have lamented that most air agreements between Nigeria and other countries have been one-sided as Nigerian airlines have been unable to reciprocate the agreements.
Apart from agreements with countries outside the continent, Nigeria also has an open skies treaty known as the Single African Air Transport Market with about 27 other member-States of the African Union (AU) as well as other potential signatories.
Currently, 25 foreign airlines operate flights into Nigeria. Some of them operate daily while some have multiple destinations like British Airways, Ethiopian Airlines and Emirates. While only one Nigerian airline operates internationally, one or two others operate on regional routes.
Onyeama, urged Nigerians aggrieved by the treatment over landing rights Nigerians not to protest, but be grateful to Air Peace for providing alternative arrangements to ensure their successful evacuation in spite of the challenges.
According to the Minister, “having been allowed to carry out one very successful evacuation of Nigerians from London at very low fares. Air Peace in coordination with the Nigerian Government and full knowledge of the UK authorities scheduled two additional flights.
“All the arrangements were made including payments, only for the UK authorities to withdraw landing rights close to departure despite strong representations by the Nigerian Government. Including pointing out the hardship that would be caused to hundreds of Nigerian evacuees.”
Onyeama said Air Peace could have just refunded the passengers, but exceptionally, patriotically and altruistically agreed to find an alternative carrier acceptable to the UK authorities.
This, according to the minister, Air Peace did to carry out the evacuation a day later than scheduled, but for much higher fares.
He said these higher fares could legitimately have been passed on to the evacuees, but Air Peace bore this huge cost itself.
“This is to let the aggrieved evacuees know that the objects of their grievance should neither be Air Peace nor the Nigerian Government. They should rather be eternally grateful to Air Peace.
“The Nigerian Government will review its Air agreements with various countries as a result of the unacceptable treatment of Nigerian carriers during this pandemic,” Onyeama said.
The evacuation of the stranded Nigerians was rescheduled from July 13 to July 14, with the departure airport changed from Heathrow to Gatwick Airport, London.
This, however, generated an outcry from some stranded Nigerians who blamed Air Peace Airline and the Federal Government for the inconveniences.