The Senate President, Senator David Mark Wednesday accused the aviation regulatory agencies in the country, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the National Airspace Manage-ment Agency (NAMA), of colluding with foreign airlines in fixing high air fares.
This also came on a day Justice Binta Murtala Nyako of the Federal High Court in Lagos ordered the Managing Director of FAAN, Mr. George Uriesi, to appear before her on April 4, to answer the contempt charges preferred against him.
Mark, who made the remark during the debate on a motion by Senator Hope Uzodinma (PDP, Imo) titled: "Violation of aviation laws and practices by foreign airlines in Nigeria", described the arbitrary air fares charged by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic as "exploitative and unreasonable."
Mark said: "The prices given are completely out of range, they are unreasonable; they are exploitative and nobody should tell us to sit down here and not do anything about it because Nigerians are willing to pay.
"Our regulatory agencies have done absolutely nothing in fact they are part of the problem because they have been colluding with them otherwise they would have been the ones to raise the issue. They have watched helplessly, they have refused to act otherwise they would be the ones to force British Airways to look at what they are doing."
Mark further said the Civil Aviation Act 2006 requires amendment, adding that it has not provided for reprimand against persons who flout aviation laws in the country.
Presenting his motion, Uzodinma said in his lead debate that "the conduct of the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic actually translates to colossal loss of revenue to the Federal Govern-ment accruable from the statutory 5 percent ticket sales charge, to the magnitude of $235 million or N3.7 Billion, excluding heavy financial losses to travel agencies and Nigerian travellers."
He noted that the first class Lagos-London return fare is $10, 816, Abuja-London return flight was $10,144 whereas the same booking for passenger on the Accra-London route is $4, 798. While business class Lagos-London return fare is $7,370. On Accra-London route it is $4, 098.
Meanwhile, Justice Nyako gave the ruling during the hearing on the contempt application filed by Maevis against FAAN, regarding the court's earlier order of September 24, 2010, for the maintenance of the status quo on the airports' concession contract.
Maevis is the concessionaire to FAAN on the provision of the Airport Operations Management System (AOMS) platform in four international airports in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port-Harcourt.
The FAAN/ Maevis Airport Operations Management System (AOMS) project comprise the acquisition, installation, operation and management of world class Integrated Airport Operations Database (AODB), Common Use Terminal Equipment (CUTE), Computer Based Departure Control System Platform, Common Use Self Service (CUSS) Kiosk, Check-in desk and a fully automated Airport Pricing and Billing System (PBS).
When the case came up yesterday, lead counsel to Maevis, Professor Yemi Osinbajo , SAN, reminded the court that FAAN's counsel, Mr. Kola Awodein, SAN, in the hearing of the case on May 19, 2011 had thrice before court given an undertaking on behalf of his client that FAAN would not infract upon the judge's ruling to maintain the res.
He also pointed out that while economy class fares on routes with nine hours minimum flight duration from London to US are far cheaper than from Abuja to London with only six hours duration.
For instance, Uzodinma said it while it costs $625 to fly economy class from London to New York, $787 from London to Dallas, $730 from London to Florida, $772 from London to Atlanta, the cheapest economy return ticket from Abuja to London is $1200.
He expressed worry that most Nigerian passengers now travel to London through Accra, Ghana, thereby denying Nigeria the chances of becoming the regional hub and causing serious economic losses to the country.
Many of the senators who contributed to the debate deplored the exorbitant air fares and called on the federal government to mandate public office holders, who account for 80 per cent of those who patronise the foreign airlines, to shift their patronage to Nigerian airlines.
They however dispelled insinuations that the cause of the arbitrary increase and disparity in fare price with other African countries was reflective of the high cost of business and cost of fuel in Nigeria.
In his contribution, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia) called for the adoption of economic nationalism in dealing with the situation.
While Senator Uche Chukwumerije(PDP, Abia) described the arbitrary pricing as discriminatory, provocative and neo colonialist, Senator Gobir canvassed the payment of compensation to Nigeria passengers who have been affected by the exorbitant charge.
On his part, Senator Barnabas Gemade (PDP, Benue) however opposed the motion, saying there was no reason why the federal government should not mandate its officials who amount to 80 percent of those that patronise the foreign airlines to desist from patronising them.
The senate however mandated its Committee on Aviation to investigate all issues relating to compliance or non-compliance with the relevant aviation laws and all unwholesome activities by foreign airlines which undermine the growth of the aviation industry in Nigeria.
He further averred that FAAN "has engaged in serious and egregious actions which undermine the authority of the court, culminating in the displacement of Maevis and its staff from their offices at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos and Nnamdi Azikwe Aiport, Abuja."
This displacement of Maevis, Professor Osibajo explained, was consequent upon a notice of contempt of court charge before the court, following FAAN's earlier correspondence to all airlines to stop using the AOMS platform. He submitted that FAAN's action was a gross violation of and a disregard for this ruling.
Responding, Awodein equally drew the court's attention to the pendency of a preliminary objection filed by FAAN challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the committal application filed by FAAN.
He argued that the preliminary objection ought to be taken prior to the hearing of the committal application. Opposing the contention, Osinbajo contended that where contempt proceedings are pending, those proceedings take precedence over a challenge to the jurisdiction of the court.
In her ruling, Justice Binta Murtala Nyako emphasised that contempt proceedings are quasi-criminal in nature and that all contemptnors were supposed to be present in court.
She, thereafter, adjourned the suit to Wednesday, April 4, 2012 and ordered that FAAN management appear before the court.