Airfare hikes appear as coordinated action by airlines, FG insists

The Federal Government on Thursday insisted that the sudden and over 60 per cent hike in airfares by domestic airlines which occurred almost the same time appeared to be a coordinated action that must be probed. On Wednesday, domestic airlines under the aegis of the Airline Operators of Nigeria denied the allegation of colluding to fix airfares following the increasing criticism that trailed their recent hikes in fares.

Airfare hikes appear as coordinated action by airlines, FG insists
The Federal Government on Thursday insisted that the sudden and over 60 per cent hike in airfares by domestic airlines which occurred almost the same time appeared to be a coordinated action that must be probed. On Wednesday, domestic airlines under the aegis of the Airline Operators of Nigeria denied the allegation of colluding to fix airfares following the increasing criticism that trailed their recent hikes in fares. Their denial also came after an exclusively report by The PUNCH which revealed that the Federal Government had commenced investigations into their alleged collusion to fix airfares on all domestic routes. But despite the denial by AON, the government insisted on Thursday that the sudden hike by all the carriers looked coordinated regardless of the argument by the carriers. The Executive Vice-Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Babatunde Irukera, disclosed this in Abuja during the inauguration of a joint technical committee by the FCCPC and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to address consumer complaints in the aviation sector. He said the hike in airfares had aggravated the level of despondency among air travellers, as the latest responses to the development had been huge. Irukera said, “Immediately the information about the increase in airfares came to us, we immediately set out to figure out what could potentially have gone wrong and the best approach, which is to start by engaging the NCAA. “But what we didn’t anticipate was the share volume of responses from the public. We didn’t anticipate the level of aggravation and despondency that we’ve seen.” Insisting that the recent hike was an action that appeared to be coordinated, the FCCPC stated that the issue distorted the country’s aviation sector, as he noted that cases of flight cancellations and delays had become incessant. He said, “How do we address what is becoming more incessant from a delay and cancelation standpoint to the level of responsiveness and sensitivity the airlines show when unavoidable or permissible delays or cancellations occur? “And more recently, what (airfares hike) appears to be a coordinated conduct in restraint of competition and completely distort a market that has become the vital backbone to the nation. These are really serious issues.” Irukera told the NCAA team that these issues had to be addressed by the two agencies for the benefit of Nigerians, stressing that there were no options on the matter before both organisations. “Any type of understanding or arrangement between competitors can only work in one direction and that is hardship and a loss of value to consumers,” he stated. Irukera further observed that “sadly aviation is one of the high areas of complains and dissatisfaction.” The Director-General, NCAA, Musa Nuhu, said the domestic carriers were supposed to submit their new airfares to the authority seven days before officially increasing the air tickets. “In our regulations, airfares are deregulated subject to meeting certain conditions. The airlines are expected to submit to the NCAA, at least seven days before any increase and we are supposed to review it,” he stated.