FoI Request: Bilateral Air Services Agreement(s) (BASA) between Nigeria and UK

A few weeks ago when the whole Arik/Nigeria/British Airways landing slots drama was raging, I decided to put in a Freedom of Information request to the UK’s Department for Transport.

Point was, as much as there was so much noise about the BASA, I didnt actually see any newspaper publish a copy of the agreement so we could at least see what parts were not being adhered to by the British as our Aviation Minister said.

Long story short, the documents were emailed to me today by the DfT and I am sharing them shere.

Obviously the drama has since moved on from landing slots to ticket prices and an anti-trust fine but I suppose we wont be less informed by reading this.

 

1988

This is a long boring document and being what appears to be the first agreement between both countries, it is quite detailed with all terms defined.

It’s not clear where this meeting took place but the noteworthy stuff is on page 31 where the number of frequences and aircraft types are listed.

2005 – Meeting in Abuja

This appears to have been the first meeting since 1988. Perhaps someone remembered how outdated the agreement we had in place was and decided to update it. 

Nigeria seemed to drive a hard bargain here not only requesting which airport it wanted, but which particular terminal it also wanted at Heathrow. It also appears that before this meeting, there really was no BASA in place as both sides were flying any number of frequencies they could. 

2006 – Meeting in London

This was an update to the previous agreement above. I am not sure what triggers these meetings. But the changes here included the inclusion of Abuja and Manchester as destinations for both countries. Both sides also agreed on 3 airlines each and Nigeria removed Nigeria Airways and replaced it with Virgin Nigeria i.e. Arik, Bellview and Virgin Nigeria became the 3 Nigerian carriers.

Nigeria also complained about Heathrow slots and the British agreed to look into it.

Interestingly I dont recall any Nigerian airline making use of the Manchester Airport access we had.

2008 – Meeting in London

Another update, this time British airlines could land in Abuja, Lagos or Kano while Nigeria could land at Heathrow or any other London airport (Gatwick, London City, Stansted). Manchester dissapeared from the list here perhaps reflecting that Nigeria was never going to make use of it.

The document states that the meeting was held in a ‘friendly’ atmosphere even though the issue of access to Heathrow was once again brought up with the British promising to do all they could to make sure Nigeria had access.

 

 

What is interesting from all of the above is that these meetings seemed to be taking place fairly frequently since 2005. Given that the current BASA has been in place since 2008, I wonder why the Minister didnt just call a meeting to update the agreement as opposed to slashing BA’s landing slots.

There’s also nothing in the latest BASA (2006) that says it must remain in place for a certain period, so why not ask for an update if you feel aggrieved? 

Also, while the British have found a way to utilise their own landing slots in Abuja and Lagos, Nigeria seems to be only interested in Heathrow. We never made use of Manchester (I stand to be corrected on this) even though there’s a fairly decent Nigerian population up there. 

All in all, it’s hard to see what the whole noise/beef was all about from these documents. 

But you be the judge after you’ve read through them

 

FF

P.S The names of the signatories to the agreement were redacted by the DfT as per normal with FoI requests. 

Document below confirms this

Apologies for hosting the docs inside the post, Google Docs let me down on this occassion.

Download PDF

Dikedioramma

It was rather fortuitous that I happened to listen to the excellent Jerome Okolo give at a talk today at London’s TEDxEuston. His life story seemed to be one of a young man popping up in the right places but always at the wrong time.

And having witnessed the tragedies of so many different peoples, he then began to confront the unspoken tragedy of his own country; the Nigerian Civil War.

The man who came to symbilise that war, perhaps more than any other Nigerian, Dikedioramma Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, passed on today at the age of 78. 

Personally, when it comes to leading your people to war, I set the bar for leadership at Abraham Lincoln, a man who understood that more strength was required in not pulling a trigger when you had a gun in your hand than in doing the obvious. I am not sure that Colonel Ojukwu fully took account of the risks before leading his people to a war for which they paid an outrageous price.

But one must never fall into the temptation of blaming the shortness of a woman’s skirt for the rape she suffered. What happened to Ndigbo in that war was wrong. The killings were senseless and totally unjustified no matter what the ground rules were at the time. 

A country ought not to leave a matter like Biafra unaddressed because doing so then makes it ‘normal’. Ever since then, it has been one violence or the other visited on Nigerians either in Zaki-biam or Odi or on our bad roads and terrible hospitals…not to forget that most violent of government actions, unbridled corruption.

I am not a believer in inter-temporal punishments but I believe that even if you were not a party to the crime, you can help in putting right a wrong. 

The Ikemba’s passing is another teachable moment for Nigeria. We never have a shortage of these moments but we are consistent in never learning anything from them. This is a moment when we are once again reminded of the unresolved issues from our past…another chance to at least begin to understand that the rattling sounds we hear whenever we open the Nigerian closet is of skeletons that have been left unattended to.

I pray for the repose of Chief Ojukwu’s soul and that God will grant his wife, children, family and all who have come to look up to him in one way or the other the strengthe to bear this loss. I pray that God will grant him eternal rest and keep him in the palm of His hands for all time.

 

I am also tired of waiting for the Nigerian government to do what I think is the right thing. I often get the feeling that this is beyond them.

It is not right that I share the same passport with people who were brutalised in the name of keeping us all together. It cannot be…especially as the things that keep us together till today are not things any sane person would be proud of.

And so, on behalf of myself and myself alone (Feyi Fawehinmi), I want to say that on the off chance that these atrocities were committed in my name by even the most convoluted degree of separation, I say to my Igbo brothers and sisters, I am terribly sorry for the things that were done to you and your parents. 

Si kele onye nti chiri; enu anughi, ala anu

Those things were not right no matter the causes of that war. They go against everything I have come to know as just and right. 

To the 700 killed at Asaba who Jerome Okolo has managed to name individually and the 1 million others who might never be properly named, these things were wrong. And to me they will always be wrong.

I dont know how anyone else feels about these things, but I know how I feel.

I also hope we get to a point where we can sit down with our past, not to apportion blame, but to come to be able to realise the deep error of our ways and move on from them with the understanding that they must never be repeated.

 

FF

 

Rams and Aeroplanes

One of the most amusing things to happen in Nigeria recently, certainly for me, is the whole furore over British Airways which began with landing slots but has now graduated into a cry over unfair ticket prices. 

Suffice to say that Nigeria is rather angry over what remains unclear hence the sabre rattling. The latest line is that British Airways in particular, charges Nigerians ‘unfair’ prices especially when compared with neighbouring Ghana. What is most bizarre about the comparisons being made is that they focus on Business and 1st Class tickets. Why on earth will a government claiming to fight unfair ticket prices be concerned about premium tickets? 

A 1st class ticket is a luxury good meaning that the producer has no incentive to lower the price except when demand is low i.e. when demand is high for such goods, the logical thing to do is to increase its price because people who demand such goods are not price sensitive. Afterall, you are going to enter a plane and pay $6000 for a flight where someone else sitting within a few metres from you is paying $1000, it has to be that money aint a thing for you. 

Also importantly, the more an airline can get those who buy premium tickets to pay, the less it can afford to charge those in economy (the vast majority) i.e. the premium passengers more or less subsidise the economy fliers. So what is wrong with this? What is the government’s business with the price rich people choose to pay for a 6 hour flight?

 

More to the point, are Nigerians really discriminated against when it comes to ticket pricing? The best way to answer this is to, as always, compare with other countries in the world. First thing to understand is the nature of our demand as a people. Any casual observer will easily see that, the busiest period on the London to Lagos route is during the festive season in December. Nigerians love to travel during this period and will seemingly pay over the odds just to be in Lagos for Christmas. Shrugs.

Now when you have so much demand for something concentrated over a certain period, economics (or greed if you prefer) will always take over. It makes economic sense for the supplier of the product to cash in as much as possible over that period and then reduce prices afterwards when demand falls. In this regard, British Airways and the Ram sellers are no different.

We all know how ram prices in Nigeria shoot up astronomically in the lead up to sallah, only to crash back down to earth the day after the celebration. Same ram, different prices. Economics.

Are there any other countries where the nationals have concentrated demand for air tickets over a given period like we do? The answer is yes. Let’s check out 3 of them. Unfortunately it is very difficult to find historic ticket prices so we will use forward looking prices.

Indians

When do Indians like to travel? We can easily guess that its during the Diwali festival. There’s also a huge Indian contingent in London that greatly outnumbers Nigerians. Next year’s Diwali festival will be on Tuesday November 13th. So let’s imagine you are an Indian in London and you want to travel from Heathrow to Mumbai for 2 weeks. You want to leave London on the 6th of November 2012 to return on the 20th of November. 

India

The price to go home for Diwali, even when you are booking 1 year in advance with Air India for that matter is an astonishing £3006 for an economy ticket lasting 8hrs.

But what if I pick a random date in February to make the same journey from London to Mumbai? Say 9th – 23rd February 2012. Have a look below

India_2

Same ticket and airline, this time the price is £492 for an economy fare. Unfair? 

Brazilians

There are also a lot of Brazilians in London. We can assume that the demand for tickets to Brazil is highest around the Rio Carnival. Next year the carnival will take place around the 18th – 25th February. So let’s leave London for Rio around the 11th and return on the 27th shall we? Pick your choice from below

Brazil

In this case, the British Airline (although currently German owned) BMI charges much lower prices than TAM the Brazilian carrier. Prices going up to almost £4k for an economy ticket for a 15hr direct journey.

What if we decide to travel in March after the Rio festival is definitely over. Let’s leave London on the 9th of March and return 2 weeks later. 

Brazil_2

Oops, same ticket can now be obtained for at least £300 cheaper. Even TAM has dropped it prices drastically. Unfair eh?

Jews

We musnt forget the Jews. I live in North London and there is a Jewish Synagogue right next door to me so I have a very good idea of how plentiful the Jews are in London. The Jews, as I understand like to return home during Passover. Next year’s Passover falls between April 6th – 14th

Again, let us depart London to Tel Aviv on April 1st and return on say the 18th. 

Israel

Prices range from £484 to £514. Bear in mind that this is barely a 4 hour flight. 

And what happens if we decide to travel in February for 2 weeks (9th to 23rd) well before the Passover?

Israel_2

In this case, the reduction isnt that much but the point here is that it costs less to travel sooner which goes against the whole idea of booking early to save money.

You are probably getting bored now so let’s finish up with Nigeria by leaving London on the 18th of December to return on the 3rd of January.

Nigeria_los

As usual, maga must to pay. You can fly Arik at £955 or go with BA for £1519. Virgin Atlantic doesnt even come up which probably means, they are fully booked for that period.

And what if you leave London randomly again in February (9th – 23rd). 

Nigeria_los_2

As expected, prices have dropped in line with demand and VA now pops up on the list as available.

 

The point of all of the above is to establish that there is nothing about the pricing policy of airlines who fly to Nigeria that is strange or unique to Nigerians. But of course, if you are a government minister in Nigeria, it is a nice populist argument to make it look like the nasty British are ‘exploiting’ Nigerians so let’s use our favourite government weapon, ban them!

But there is in fact one more problem that is worth addressing. Tickets to Nigeria even during the off season are more expensive than flying to other countries even with longer journeys. And why is this so? The simple answer is that the competition on the London to Lagos route is not deep enough to force down the prices. 

From the comparisons above, travelling to India in February costs £474 for a longer journey of 8 hours while Nigeria costs £669 with the same British Airways. The difference here is that for an Indian who wants to fly non stop from London to Mumbai, he has the following choices

British Airways 

Virgin Atlantic

BMI

Jet Airways (Indian)

Air India (Indian)

Kingfisher (Indian)

It is therefore to be expected that prices on a route with 6 carriers cometing fiercely with each other will be cheaper than on a route with only 3 carriers. I dare say that if not for the Christmas demand, tickets to Nigeria should be much more expensive than they currently are. 

The above is why it is very silly to compare ticket prices between Nigeria and the USA based on journey times without taking account of competition. 

 

There are 2 solutions to bring down prices and I will outline them below

1. The first one is fairly obvious – get a second Nigerian airline to compete on that route and bring down prices. For this airline to be able to do this, it needs to be extremely well funded and be ready to be loss making for 5 years at least. Off the top of my head, I imagine you will need $1bn at least to make this happen. Those who have successfully done this are airlines like Emirates in the past and now Qatar Airways and Etihad. Not to forget that you will need to back the airlines with cheap fuel like the Arabs do.

The airline business is said to be the fastest way for a billionaire to become a millionaire as it can be deeply unprofitable. This article gives an idea of the kind of challenges that Kingfisher is currently facing in India.

But does this make sense? Why should Nigeria which is facing serious infrastructural among myriad other problems back home spend money on an airline to carry at most 3000 already priviledged Nigerians between Lagos and London every week? 

My opinion is that there are far better things we can spend money on. 

So to my 2nd solution…

2. In 2008, the EU and USA began a new open skies agreement. Nothing new about an open skies agreement but the novel thing about this agreement is that it treated the whole of Europe as one and the USA as one. What this means in practice is that an Air France plane can take off from London Heathrow to Los Angeles without having to stopover in Charles De Gaulle in France i.e a direct flight from an airport that is not in its home country.

The same is true for say KLM flying from London to New York as you can see below

New_york

You can fly from London to New York non stop on a Dutch airline without the need to stop in Amsterdam. The reason for this of course has to do with the fact that Heathrow is by far the busiest airport in Europe. 

So how does this affect Nigeria? Well all these problems have arisen from the BASA we have signed with Britain in particular. But what if someone in our Aviation Ministry was smart enough to negotiate an open skies agreement with the EU as a whole and not just Britain? The UK is of course subject to EU law and thus any agreement we have with the EU will supercede whatever we have with the British.

You probably get where I am going with this now. If we have a similar agreement with the EU as a whole, we can increase competition on the Lagos to London route without even spending money. This will mean that airlines like KLM and Lufthansa can fly direct from Heathrow to Lagos without the need to stop over in Amsterdam or Frankfurt thus increasing the number of direct options available to Nigerians on that route, just like the Indians have.

Airlines are of course rational and want to make money, so if they see that the demand by Nigerians is for direct flights from Heathrow to Lagos especially during Christmas and British Airways and Virgin are printing money on the route, they are bound to want to cash in by offering the same service…which is bound to bring prices down.

 

The lack of an understanding of basic economics by those in Nigerian government is depressing to say the least. How a minister can think she can force down prices by a directive without unintended consequences is amusing to say the least. What if airlines start charging Nigerians for a 2nd bag like everyone does on journeys from London to the USA? Knowing how we like to travel like the world is coming to an end, will the Minister prefer this option?

The problem of course with my 2nd solution above is that it will involve a lot of hard work and putting forward the best and sharpest Nigerians to negotiate for us to achieve it.

Why bother with that when you can do the usual gra gra and get those who dont really understand the economics to cheer you on as the defender of Nigeria against British interests?

FF

 

1. All ticket comparisons have been obtained from www.kayak.co.uk which is what I use whenever I need to buy tickets

2. I havent bothered comparing prices from Nigeria with Ghana because the ‘regional imbalance’ argument is the most idiotic one I have heard in a long time. It is cheaper to fly from Nigeria to London on economy than from Accrabut more expensive to fly premium or 1st class. Go figure. 

 

Obligatory Birthday Post

It is fashionable, it would appear, to blog on your birthday 🙂 but it’s generally a good time to reflect too.

I havent blogged in a while so I thought to share something very short. I am a big fan of Rudyard Kipling and I must be only one of a million plus Nigerian kids who read and watched The Jungle Book growing up.

I read this poem ages ago but then I was at a seminar with a friend last year and she read excerpts from it…it was like hearing it for the first time.

I pray for my country…that it will, hopefully in my lifetime, become a place where these Six men will be able to live happily…where it becomes normal to question things and honestly say when they are not good enough.

But a country is only as good as the people who live in it so I pray that you and I get better at whatever we do and keep these Six men close by at all times. Because sooner or later, you are going to be called to make something, anything better than it currently is.

Enjoy

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

 

The rest of the poem is here if you want to read it.

 

FF