Nigeria’s Civil Aviation Authority has dropped US$235 million worth of fines imposed on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, three months after they were handed out amidst a row with Britain over landing slots and ticket prices.
In November last year Harold Demuren, Director General of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said that, “We are charging British Airways US$135 million and Virgin Atlantic US$100 million for abuse of a dominant position, fixing prices, abusing fuel surcharges and taking advantage of passengers.”
“We have been investigating for the last six months. Lagos to London has the highest route yield in the world. Our market is open for exploration, not exploitation.”
Now a Nigerian judicial panel set up to review the case has thrown out the fines, an official said on Friday.
Harold Demuren, head of Nigeria’s civil aviation authority, told AFP the panel “cancelled the fines because at the time of the offence between 2004 and 2006, there was no law to make them culpable”. The airlines have denied the allegations.
“We are pleased that the appeal has been allowed,” British Airways said in a statement. “We have been flying there [Nigeria] for more than 75 years and pride ourselves on offering competitive fares, a choice of products and connections to our Nigerian customers.”
Demuren said he would pursue the case and that, “as far as we are concerned, the two airlines are guilty.”
At the time the fines were issued, Demuren denied they were linked to negotiations over slots at London’s Heathrow. However, in August Nigeria threatened to reduce British Airways flights between London and the West African nation’s commercial-hub Lagos to three from seven weekly, after London Heathrow stopped Arik Air flights from the capital Abuja.
Nigeria’s aviation ministry said British airlines charge far more to fly to Nigeria than to neighbouring Ghana, while it believes Arik Air should not have to pay high costs to land at Heathrow when Lagos airport doesn’t charge those fees.
Britain has said that it can’t control what private companies who control the airlines and airports charge but it is in constructive dialogue with the Nigerian government.
Losing flights to Nigeria would have come at a great cost to foreign carriers, who see their flights often filled with wealthy expatriates.