By NBF News

Arik Air, one of Nigeria 's flag carriers designated on the London route by the Federal Government has given graphic details of how the United Kingdom government, in a bid to protect its carriers, tactically drove it out of the Abuja-London route.

The company also said the unequal playing field is in total disregard to the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) binding both nations.

Speaking at a press briefing to announce its discontinuation from the Abuja-London service on Friday, the Executive Chairman of Arik Air, Sir Joseph Arumemi-Ikhide said the BASA deal between Nigeria and UK gives each country 21 frequencies each to fly into each other's main airports unhindered.

'Out of 21 slots each country enjoys unhindered, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have utilized theirs'. BA enjoys seven daily frequencies out of Lagos and another seven out of Abuja to London , while the remaining seven is utilized by Virgin Atlantic for its Lagos-London service. On our own part. We're doing daily Lagos-London Heathrow, which is seven slots and another twice weekly out of Abuja . Even at that, we were still losing nine slots out of the 21', he said.

The unlevel playing field aside, the Arik Air boss also lamented that when it was time for the airline to fly from Abuja to London, the British government told them in harsh terms that there are no slots in London Heathrow and that if it was bent on flying into Heathrow, the only available option was to rent slots from the British Midland International ( BMI ) at a whopping cost of £1.4 million (N357 million) between 2009 and 2010, commencing from the winter season.

He said the airline paid an initial deposit of £600,000 (N153 million) and then pays £52,250 (N13.3 million) monthly to BMI and after the expiration of that, the company increased it from £52,250,000 monthly to £90,000 per month and that when the airline tried to negotiate the amount, BMI refused to shift grounds.

'Is this fair? Their own carriers come here unhindered so where is the level playing field? These unfair treatment and slots issues are not contained in the BASA deals we have with them' this is unfair.

Arumemi-Ikhide wants the Presidency to wade into the matter, describing it as a national oppression.

However, the Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah , has waded into the matter, adding that appropriate action is being taken to redress the situation.

The Ministry also said it has investigated British Airways and Virgin Atlantic with respect to the discriminatory and unacceptable prices of air fares between the Lagos-London and Abuja-London routes, assuring that plans are afoot to protect Nigerian citizens from exploitation that arises from a price regime that is highly restrictive and discriminatory. Furthermore, the Honourable Minister has observed with utter dismay the inequitable treatment meted out to Arik Air in denying its fleet access into Heathrow Airport from Abuja . As a result, the airline has been compelled to discontinue its flight operations from Abuja to Heathrow, which has impacted negatively on the passengers on this route.