The Virgin Group is a far-reaching conglomerate with its fingers in many pies. Among these, over the years, have been several airlines. Some, like Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, are active today, while others no longer grace the world’s skies. One such carrier was Virgin Nigeria Airways, which flew for seven years in the 2000s and 2010s. You may or may not have heard of it, but this is its story.
In the beginning
When Nigeria Airways ceased operations in 2003, the country needed a new national airline. This came to fruition a year later, in 2004, when a group of Nigerian investors collaborated with the Virgin Group to form Virgin Nigeria.
Its base was Murtala Muhammed International Airport (LOS) in Lagos, and its frequent flyer program was known as Eagleflier. The year after being founded, Virgin Nigeria commenced operations in June 2005. Its inaugural flight took passengers from its own hub in Lagos to a key Virgin Atlantic base, namely London Heathrow.
The plane used was an Airbus A340-300 which the new carrier leased from Virgin Atlantic. In fact, it retained its G-VBUS registration while at Virgin Nigeria.
To begin with, Virgin Nigeria enjoyed of fast expansion, taking just two years to carry its millionth passenger and 4,000th ton of cargo. As growth continued, it planned to open a second base elsewhere in Nigeria, specifically in Abuja.
Virgin Nigeria’s fleet
Despite operating for a relatively short period, Virgin Nigeria flew an interesting, diverse range of aircraft. As established, the airline’s early years saw it lease two Virgin Atlantic A340s, which, according to ATDB.aero, it returned in 2007. Other widebodies at the carrier included two A330-200s and three Boeing 767-300.
In terms of single-aisle jets, Virgin Nigeria’s most common narrowbody was the 737 family, from which it operated 12 737-300s and a single -400. Less numerous were the A320-200 and 757-200, of which it flew two and one.
Regional aircraft also had a role to play at Virgin Nigeria. As far as jet-powered aircraft were concerned, it flew two Embraer E190s, as well as canceling the acquisitions of two E170s. ATR 42 and Fokker F27 turboprops were also present.
The end of the line
After five years of operations, the Virgin Group withdrew its branding from the airline, which then became known as Nigerian Eagle Airlines. Despite the name change, Virgin retained its stake in the airline, although it had been looking to sell it since 2008. A year later, in June 2010, a change in the carrier’s ownership structure brought about another name change, to the rather simpler Air Nigeria.
Two more years followed before, in June 2012, safety checks grounded the airline. This would be the beginning of the end, as September 2012 saw the firing of its management on the grounds of disloyalty. Operations ceased fully four days later. There were 13 aircraft in Air Nigeria’s fleet at the time of its collapse.
Nigerian aviation today
It has now been a decade since the airline’s story ended, and Nigeria’s aviation scene is experiencing quite the roller-coaster. Despite various issues regarding rises in fuel costs and ticket prices, the country is in the process of getting a new national airline ready for operations. The carrier secured its operating license in June 2022, and is looking to the likes of Ethiopian Airlines for investment.
Did you know about the story of Virgin Nigeria Airways? Perhaps you even flew with the short-lived carrier earlier in the 21st century? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.