The Senate on Wednesday accused aviation regulatory authorities of laxity and mandated its Committee on Aviation to investigate discrepancies in international air fares between Nigeria and other African countries.
This followed the adoption of a motion on the violation of aviation laws and practice by foreign airlines in Nigeria sponsored by Hope Uzodinma (PDP-Enugu) and 28 other senators.
Senate President, David Mark, said that this practice had continued as a result of the failure on the part of the regulatory authorities to checkmate the excesses of the foreign airlines.
“It has been on for a very long time, and our regulatory agencies are in fact part of the problems because they have refused to act in any way that would force British Airways to reduce its fares.
“It is exploitative and nobody should be allowed to exploit Nigerians,” Mr. Mark said.
The Senate President said that although the Aviation Minister had given the foreign airlines a 30-day ultimatum to reduce their fares, the Senate would not stop in its mandate to protect Nigerians.
He charged the committee to work swiftly on the investigation and ensure that the report was brought to the Senate within three weeks.
Mr. Uzodinma held that the foreign airlines charged higher fares from Nigerians on routes of equal distance than they charged from other countries to different parts of the world.
“The return fare for first class from Lagos to London is 10,816 dollars. Abuja to London return flight is 10,144 dollars, whereas the same booking for a passenger on the Accra-London route is 4,798 dollars.
“The business class return fare from Lagos-London is 7,370 dollars, on Accra-London route is 4,098 dollars.
“The return economy ticket from London-New York is 625 dollars; London-Dallas is 787 dollars, London Florida is 730 dollars.
“These routes are nine hours flight minimum, while the cheapest economy return ticket from Abuja-London which is six hours, is 1,200 dollars.’’
This, he added, made some Nigerians to travel through Accra to London, and this amounts to colossal economic loss to the country.
According to him, a recent investigation by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority has indicted British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways of collusion and anti-competitive practices within the Nigerian Aviation airspace.
Contributing to the debate, Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP-Abia), advised Nigerians to be more patriotic and use Arik Airline, a local carrier that was much cheaper.
Mr. Abaribe was also of the view that the Federal Government should compel its officials to patronise the Nigerian carrier.
He called on the Senate to effect the necessary amendments to the aviation laws to place stiffer sanctions on airlines that contravened the law.
On his part, Olubunmi Adetunmbi (ACN-Ekiti) said that the practice of higher air fares was possible in Nigeria “because apparently, the regulatory agencies were colluding with the airlines”.
Mr. Adetunmbi urged the committee to concentrate on why the practise had been going on for so long and yet nothing had been done to check it.
Attai Aidoko (ACN Kogi) said that a huge percentage of the current budget was spent on foreign trips due to the high fares charged by the airlines.
Mr. Aidoko urged the investigating committee to also look at the implication of the high cost of air fare on the national budget.
Some Senators said the airlines charged exorbitant fares due to high cost of doing business in Nigeria as a result of electricity shortage.
The investigation is to cover all the issues related to compliance or non-compliance with relevant aviation laws and all unwholesome activities by foreign airlines.
It will also look at the role played by regulatory agencies that undermined the growth of the aviation industry in Nigeria.
The Senate also received an executive Bill from the President on the Establishment of the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun in Delta.