Nigerian airport officials have fined British Airways $135 million and Virgin Atlantic $100 million amid a dispute over ticket prices, the country’s civil aviation authority said Thursday.
Harold Demuren, head of the authority, told AFP the fines were “$135 million against BA, $100 million against Virgin Atlantic ….,” alleging overcharging on tickets.
He said the airlines had received notice of the fines on Tuesday and were given 14 days to respond.
“In addition, they must compensate all those passengers,” Demuren said.
A statement from the aviation authority confirmed the fines and alleged the two airlines had colluded on fares.
“BA and VAA did in fact collude, and in furtherance of that collusion periodically increased (passenger fuel surcharges), including against Nigerians,” the statement said.
“BA and VAA operate approximately 90 percent of the direct flights between Nigeria and the UK.
“Being a duopoly, the effect of this collusion was and continues to be devastating on Nigerian travellers who have limited choices and have had to and continue to pay indiscriminately high fares.”
It said the authority had “concluded that both airlines violated Nigerian law, exploited Nigerian consumers and have remained adamant about whether those consumers should be compensated …”
British Airways disputed the claims and said it would defend itself.
“We reject the allegations made by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and we are vigorously defending our position,” a statement said.
“We remain committed to Nigeria and have been flying there for more than 75 years. We pride ourselves on offering competitive fares, a choice of products and connections to our Nigerian customers.”
There was no immediate comment from Virgin Atlantic.
Nigeria’s government has been in negotiations over allegations that British Airways has been overcharging on its routes between Nigeria and Britain.
It has also been in talks with British officials over slots at London’s Heathrow airport. Demuren denied that the fines were linked to the negotiations over the Heathrow slots.
“You can’t take us for a ride,” Demuren said.
Nigeria’s aviation ministry earlier this week said in a statement that British Airways should offer the same or similar fares to the UK as flights from any other location of similar distance within West Africa.
The ministry statement said BA made an offer of a 20 percent reduction in the lowest business class fare, but added that “the Nigerian side considered this as insufficient.”
The civil aviation authority statement alleged that the fuel surcharge on prices “was nothing but an additional fare. The (passenger fuel surcharge) is essentially a fare increase that goes to the airlines.”
It said the airlines would face penalties if they failed to comply with its findings, including “disallowing their flight to enter into Nigerian airspace …”