NIGERIA AIRWAYS: ITS GOOD PURPOSE AND ITS BAD EXIT

 

“Out of sight is out of mind” truly, yes it is but that seems not to be the case with Nigeria Airways Limited. The airline was here and its memories still linger in the memories of concerned Nigerians, most especially those that are craving for a virile and functional national carrier that would again put Nigeria on the global aviation map, a carrier that would be efficiently run, and one that would be able to compete with big, European and American airlines, a vacuum Nigeria Airways once filled, that has been the dream of every Nigerian.

Nigeria Airways Limited, more commonly known as Nigeria Airways is the defunct Nigerian airline. The company was founded in 1958 after the dissolution of West African Airways Corporation. It was wholly owned by the government of Nigeria, and served as the country’s flag carrier until it ceased operations in 2003. At the time of dissolution, the company’s headquarters was at Airways House, Abuja. The airline’s operations were concentrated at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja Lagos.

The airline was managed by a number of foreign companies, including British Airways, KLM and South Africa Airways. It had its heydays in the early 1980s, just after a KLM team’s two-year-management period; at that time its fleet comprised about 30 aircraft. Plagued by mismanagement, corruption, and overstaffing, at the time of closure the airline had debts of more than US$60,000,000 ($74,880,608 in 2013), a poor safety record, and its operative fleet comprised a single aircraft flying domestic routes as well as two leased aircraft operating the international network. It was succeeded by Virgin Nigeria.

The airline came into being on 23 August 1958 under the name West African Airways Corporation Nigeria Limited (WAAC Nigeria), otherwise known as Nigerian Airways WAAC, to succeed the folded West African Airways Corporation (WAAC); the title “WAAC” was retained due to the prestige this company had previously earned. Initially, the carrier was a tripartite entity in which the Nigerian government was the major shareholder (51%), and Elder Dempster Lines and BOAC held the balance (32⅔ and 16⅓, respectively). WAAC Nigeria inherited the assets and liabilities of WAAC, having a fleet comprised of Doves, Herons, and DC-3s.

Operations started on 1 October 1958, with a BOAC Stratocruiser operated on behalf of the new airline linking London with Lagos. The same day, WAAC Nigeria signed an agreement with BOAC to charter Stratocruisers and Britannias for serving long-haul flights between Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

In early 1961, Nigeria became the only owner of the company. The first air link between Nigeria and the United States was launched in early October 1964. Called ″Operation Fantastic”, it linked Lagos with New York and was operated by PanAm using Boeing 707s and DC-8s, but an agreement between both countries allowed Nigeria Airways to sell a limited number of seats on these flights.

On 22 January 1971, the company was rebranded as Nigeria Airways. In late 1972, a contract for management assistance was signed with TWA, with the American carrier providing specialists in different managerial, commercial, and financial fields for five years. Once this agreement was officially concluded, a similar contract was signed with KLM in September 1979, this time for two years.

The carrier had accumulated significant debts that outstripped its revenues virtually from the mid-1980s. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) was commissioned by the Nigerian government in 2000 to assist in the process of restructuring and privatisation of the airline. Among three options, one of them was to partner a large European airline; Air France, Lufthansa and Swissair were all considered. Other option was to liquidate the carrier. The IFC withdrew from its advisory position in 2001 citing the unwillingness of both the company and the government to carry out the necessary measures that would make the airline attractive to potential investors. Likewise,  there were various allegations claiming that the airline’s failure was accelerated by former Nigerian rulers, who looted and mismanaged the company.

In 1997, the UK Civil Aviation Authority banned the airline from operating into its territory citing safety concerns; the Nigerian government replied by banning British Airways operations. The United Kingdom cited safety concerns again in 2001 when it refused to allow Nigeria Airways to operate the Lagos–London route, this time regarding the Boeing 747 that was leased from Air Djibouti to fly the route.

The carrier ceased operations in 2003. The Nigerian government later came to an agreement with Virgin Atlantic Airways to found Virgin Nigeria Airways, intended as a replacement, yet the ground facilities of the folded Nigeria Airways were eventually taken over by Arik Air.

Nigeria Airways had its headquarters at Airways House in Abuja at the time of dissolution. It had been moved from Murtala Muhammed Airport between 1999 and 2000. The airline logo consisted of the Nigerian flag with a green elephant named Skypower in its centre.

At the time of closure the Nigeria Airways network consisted of four domestic destinations, namely Abuja, Kano, Lagos and Port Harcourt; likewise, the international network comprised Abidjan, Dubai, Jeddah, London and New York.

BOAC operated Vickers VC-10 services on behalf of Nigeria Airways from April 1964 until an aircraft of the type was acquired from the British state airline in October 1969; the airplane was destroyed in an accident in November that year. Until a new Boeing 707-320C entered the fleet in 1971, Boeing 707s were leased from Laker Airways and Ethiopian Airlines to fill the capacity shortage left by the crashed aircraft on the Lagos–London route. Another Boeing 707-320C was ordered in 1972, along with two Boeing 737-200s. In October the same year, the Fokker F28 entered the fleet on a lease agreement with Fokker, and later that year the type was ordered. By March 1975, the fleet consisted of two Boeing 707-320Cs, two Boeing 737-200s, three Fokker F28s, five Fokker F27s, and one Aztec, while five F28-2000s were on order.

In October 1976, the company became the 83rd customer for the Boeing 727, when an order for two Boeing 727-200s and another Boeing 707-320C was placed; it also took possession of a Douglas DC-10-30. Orders for a second DC-10-30 and two F28-4000s were placed in 1977 and 1978, respectively. By July 1980, the fleet consisted of 26 aircraft, split into three Boeing 707-320Cs, two Boeing 727-200s, two Boeing 737-200s, two DC-10-30s, two F27-200s, two F27-400Ms, four F27-600s, six F28-2000s, two F28-4000s, and one Aztec.

Nigeria Airways became Airbus’ 40th customer in 1981, when it placed an order for four Airbus A310-200s; these aircraft were incorporated into the fleet in late 1984 and early 1985. Also in 1981, four new Boeing 737-200s were ordered to replace leased aircraft of the same type in a deal worth US$65,000,000 ($164,141,654 in 2013); they were delivered in February 1983.

In 1982, a Boeing 747 was leased from Scanair; the aircraft was deployed on services to the United Kingdom, permitting the DC-10s to be used on new routes to Frankfurt, Paris, and Zurich. Following an accident in November 1983 that involved a Fokker F28, the carrier decided to withdraw from service its F27 and F28 fleet. The fleet was 22-strong in March 1985, comprised of two DC-10-30s, four Airbus A310s, three Boeing 707-320Cs, two Boeing 727-200s, ten Boeing 737-200s, and one Boeing 737-200C; two Boeing 737-200s were on order.

The carrier operated the last DC-10 ever built, on lease from World Airways.

The airline operated the following equipment throughout its history. Airbus A300B4, Airbus A310-200, Aztec , BAC One-Eleven 400, Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, Boeing 707-120, Boeing 707-120B, Boeing 707-320, Boeing 707-320B, Boeing 707-320C, Boeing 707-420, Boeing 727-100, Boeing 727-200, Boeing 737-200, Boeing 737-400, Boeing 747-100, Boeing 747-200B, Boeing 747-200C, Boeing 747-200F and Boeing 747-300.

Others are Boeing 767-200ER, Boeing 767-300ER, Britannia 100, Comet, Douglas C-47A, Douglas DC-3, Douglas DC-8-30, Douglas DC-8-50, Douglas DC-8-60, Dove, Fokker F27-200, Fokker F27-400, Fokker F27-600, Fokker F-28-1000, Fokker F-28-2000, Fokker F-28-4000, Heron, McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10, McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30, Vickers VC-10 and Vickers Viscount 810.

Aviation Safety Network recorded16 events for the airline, eight of which led to fatalities. The worst accident experienced by the carrier took place on 11 July 1991, when 261 people were killed in an accident at King Abdulaziz International Airport. The following list includes events that had reported fatalities, carried with the hull-loss of the equipment involved, or both: At Lagos, November 20, 1969, aircraft VC-10-1101 was flying the London–Rome–Kano–Lagos route as flight 825 when it crashed on its last leg, during approach to Ikeja International Airport, after hitting trees in low visibility. The aircraft involved had been sold to Nigeria Airways by BOAC less than two months prior to the occurrence of the accident and was operated by an experienced crew.

At Jos, April 4, 1971, F27-200 swerved off the runway and hit heaps of gravel at Jos Airport, following a rejected takeoff in crosswind conditions. In Port-Harcourt, September 19, 1972, F28-1000 ran off the runway upon landing at Port Harcourt Airport. At Kano, January 22, 1973, Boeing 707-320C skidded off the runway and caught fire soon after one of the two main gears collapsed on landing at Kano Airport. The aircraft was due to fly the Jeddah–Lagos route, but it was diverted to Kano because of the weather. It was chartered from Alia Royal Jordanian Airlines and operated on behalf of Nigeria Airways for the Hajj season.

At Sokoto, April 25, 1977, F27-200 overran the runway on landing at Sokoto Airport. At Kano, March 1, 1978, F28-1000 the aircraft was operating a domestic scheduled Sokoto–Kano service, when it collided shortly before touchdown at the destination airport with a Nigerian Air Force Mig-21U trainer. There were 18 fatalities, 16 of them occupants of the civil aircraft.

At Enugu, November 28, 1983, F28-2000 crashed in poor visibility 3.3 kilometres (2.1 mi) short of the runway on a steep approach to Enugu Airport, inbound from Lagos. The aircraft caught fire and burned out. At Ilorin, January 10, 1987, DC-10-30, overshot the runway at Ilorin Airport on a training flight and it caught fire. At Port-Harcourt, October 15, 1988, Boeing 737-200, overran the runway on landing in heavy rain at Port Harcourt Airport; both the nosegear and the starboard main gear collapsed.

At Lagos, October 2, 1989, Boeing 737-200, had its nosegear collapsed after overrunning the wet runway on landing at Ikeja International Airport. At Jeddah July 11, 1991, DC-8-61, caught fire and crashed shortly after take-off from King Abdulaziz International Airport. The aircraft, chartered from the Canadian company Nolisair, was flying pilgrims back to Sokoto as flight 2120, during the Hajj season.

At Niamey, October 25, 1993, A310-200 hijacked en route from Lagos to Abuja. The hijackers demanded the resignation of the Nigeria’s government and to be flown to Frankfurt. The aircraft was denied permission to land in N’Djamena, and was diverted to the Niamey Airport for refuelling. It was stormed by Nigerien commandos 4 days later; the co-pilot was killed during the operation.

At Kiri Kasama, December 19, 1994, Boeing 707-320C, crashed near Kiri Kasama after smoke in the cockpit was reported, distracting the pilots. The aircraft was operating a cargo service between Jeddah and Kano as Flight 9805. Also at Kaduna, November 13,1995, Boeing 737-200, the aircraft experienced a wing strike following a long, tailwind landing at Kaduna Airport, inbound from Jos as Flight 357. The starboard wing hit the ground after the aircraft slewed off the runway to the left, damaging the fuel tanks and starting a fire that completely engulfed the fuselage.

However, Nigeria Airways was here but hitherto has not gotten a worthy replacement, and it has somehow become a bad reference, that is why the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Airports Authority, FAAN, George Uriesi recently sent a warning signal to the Federal Government, “If FAAN keeps fetching water with a basket instead of a bucket, FAAN is going to go out of existence like Nigeria Airways very soon,” MrUriesi said.

Till date no Nigerian airline on schedule commercial operation has thrived for up to 20 years, except the defunct national carrier, Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) which was finally liquidated by the Federal Government in 2003.

 

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