* BA, Virgin have 30 days to rebalance fares - Nigeria
* Britain says banning airlines would be "catastrophic"
By Joe Brock
ABUJA, March 26 Nigeria has given airlines
British Airways (BA) and Virgin Atlantic 30 days to
lower fares or face a ban from flying to the West African
nation, its aviation minister said on Monday.
Britain responded by saying it could take retaliatory action
against Nigerian airlines if a ban was imposed, and that
"heavy-handed action" banning private airlines would be
"catastrophic" for business confidence in the country.
Nigeria's aviation minister has said it is unfair BA and
Virgin charged more to fly to Africa's biggest oil exporter than
to neighboring West African countries.
Its civil aviation authority fined the two airlines last
year a combined $235 million for fixing prices. BA, which is
owned by International Airlines Group and Virgin,
rejected the accusation.
"We are seriously concerned and worried by the reluctance to
restore parity within the region by the foreign airlines,"
Aviation Minister Stella Oduah said in a statement.
"They have been using all kinds of delay tactics, this is
unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated... (we will)
resolve this issue once and for all."
Britain said only business and first class fares were more
expensive to Nigeria than neighboring countries because of high
demand for those seats. It also said banning BA and Virgin would
break a bilateral air services agreement.
"It (the ban) would cause potential foreign investors to
question whether they want to put their money in Nigeria and
have a long-term and damaging effect on Nigeria's growth," the
British High Commission spokesman said.
"The prime minister and President (Goodluck) Jonathan signed
a joint communique last year pledging to double bilateral
trade. Action against BA and Virgin would damage that strategic
A BA official in Abuja declined to comment.
The fare dispute is running parallel to another row between
Nigeria and Britain over airport landing slots.
Nigeria's biggest carrier Arik Air said this month it would
have to stop its daily flights between Abuja and London Heathrow
because it was being prevented from getting arrival and
departure slots at UK airports.
"It is wrong to suggest that Arik has been prevented from
flying into Heathrow. Our understanding is that Arik is just
unwilling to pay for the cost of renting or buying landing
slots," the British spokesman said, adding it was something all
airlines who want new slots into Heathrow needed to do.
(Reporting by Joe Brock; Editing by Tim Cocks)