Arik Air to suspend Abuja–London route

Nigerian budget airline, Arik Air says it is to suspend its daily service on the Abuja – London route effective March 25, 2012, a company statement said March 16, 2012.

Arik said it was compelled to suspend its services on the route following the “inability of the UK and Nigeria governments to come to agreeable terms on the 2008 Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA)”.

“Whilst it is regrettable to have to suspend our services between Abuja and London, we simply could not continue with the route due to the restrictions placed upon us in accessing arrival/departure slots in UK airports,” said Dr Michael Arumemi-Ikhide, Group CEO/President of Arik Air.

According to the statement, under the terms of the BASA, Arik was allocated “seven frequencies per week in respect of the Lagos/London, Heathrow service and seven per week for the Abuja/London, Heathrow service”.

The total of 14 frequencies is out of 21 available for Nigerian carriers under the BASA, it added.

However, the statement noted that an anomaly exists between access to slots in the respective countries with the Nigerian government matching the allocation of slots with frequencies therefore giving UK carriers unfettered access to its full complement of 21 slots at Abuja and Lagos airports. “However, this is not reciprocated in the UK with the authorities drawing a distinction between allocation of frequencies and access to slots, claiming that an application for landing slots at UK airports is a process separate from the BASA entitlement,” it continued.

From the inception of the route in November 2009, Arik has been in a slot-lease agreement with a UK carrier, leasing arrival/ departure slots on the Abuja/ London route at Heathrow. At the end of the summer schedule (October 2011), the UK carrier that Arik was in the slot-lease agreement with for this route advised the airline of its intention to sell the company and began to wind down its contractual arrangements with Arik Air. Without these commercially arranged slots Arik Air was forced to suspend operations at the start of the winter schedule (2011).

Immediate aero-political discussions were held by the respective governments to resolve the long-existing and underlying anomaly in the BASA.  As an abridgement, the UK authorities facilitated the temporary continuation of the commercial lease of these slots in support of Arik Air’s Abuja/London, Heathrow operations. This interim solution was only available up until March 25, 2012. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of both governments, there has been no solution found. The situation remains as it was at the end of October 2011 with Arik Air having no landing/arrival slots after March 2012 thus forcing it to suspend the route.

By Ekow Quandzie

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