One man, five airlines…incredible it would seem but this story is most credible and interesting to tell and listen to.
It all started with EAS, whose owner Captain Idris Wada; immediate past governor of Kogi State was at that time looking for an investor to help his ailing airline.
EAS had a spate of bad luck especially with the BAC One –Eleven crash Flight 4226 from Kano which crash-landed in a residential area of the city called Gwammaja. The plane with 69 passengers and 8 crew members on board, burst into flames upon impact. The accident resulted in the deaths of 64 passengers and 7 crew in addition to at least 78 civilians on the ground. (This crash led to the banning of BAC111 in Nigeria)
Prior to the fatal crash, the aircraft involved in the incident had been grounded on two previous occasions: once in 2001 for eleven days to perform engine maintenance, and again in 2002 for 52 days to address engine problems.
Flight 4226 has the highest death toll of any aviation accident involving a BAC One-Eleven.
This airline which was founded in 1983 ceased cargo operations in 1992, redefined EAS to Executive Airlines Services operating passenger charters in Nigeria. At least in 2005 they still existed and in July 2006, Fleet Air Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of Nicon Group of Companies, formally acquired EAS Airlines to form Nicon Airways.
Nicon, former EAS, was owned and controlled by Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim however, this new airline only lasted one year as the airline ended operations despite promises to go places and land the then Nicon Airways in front of the Queen of England.
Nicon in fact had just the one aircraft operating for a long while flouting civil aviation rules put in place in the 1990s that for commercial operations the airline needed a minimum of two aircraft.
It was barely after the new recapitalisation of airline’s financial base by the then Minister Chief Femi Fani- Kayode, which surprising Nicon scaled through, that the airline stopped operating and fizzled out till its only aircraft became junk at the aircraft graveyard in Lagos.
That however, was not Barrister Ibrahim’s last stint in the aviation industry.
Before this, another thread was forming first with the liquidation of Nigeria Airways in 2003 an airline whose assets far outweighed is liability a move most industry commentators at that time felt was meant to clear ways for certain people and bring in Virgin Nigeria.
And on September 28, 2004, Virgin Atlantic Airways and the Nigerian government signed an agreement to create Virgin Nigeria Airways. Virgin Atlantic Airways paid $25m for a 49% stake, and Nigerian institutional investors (nameless till now) own the remaining 51% of the company.
Virgin Nigeria in June 28, 2005 had its inaugural flight with an Airbus A340-300 from Lagos (LOS) to London Heathrow Airport amidst pomp and pageantry and the romance was good until the Obasanjo-led administration that signed the deal with Sir Richard Branson left office for a more prudent President Yar’adua
Virgin Atlantic Airways on the 19th of August, 2008 announced that it reviewing whether it is appropriate that the Virgin brand should remain in use by Virgin Nigeria, and is “in talks to sell its 49% stake in Virgin Nigeria”.
The issue seems to have arisen after Virgin Nigeria against its will had to move its local Nigerian operations to Terminal 2 on instruction by the Ministry of Transportation to Terminal 2. On two occasions Virgin Nigeria had refused the directive to relocate its local Nigerian operations to Terminal 2 (from the International terminal) citing a Memorandum of Mutual Understanding signed between with the previous (Olusegun Obasanjo) administration and itself.
In 2009, Virgin Nigeria got worse and announced that it suspending flights between Lagos and London, and between Lagos & Johannesburg. That same year its expatriate crew from mother office Virgin Atlantic packed up and left and a new management team of Captain Dapo Olumide was hired.
On the 18th of September of the same 2009, Captain Olumide had tinkered with the airline structure poising it for profitability and even changed the name of the brand from Virgin Nigeria to Nigerian Eagle Airlines and that it is planning a private placement within the next 6 weeks.
“From today, the name of Virgin Nigeria Airways ceases after this presentation, you will see that we have created a brand. We intend to form an airline and create a brand at the same time. This is not done in the airline industry. This is a lot of work that had started in February and it is just been concluded. One of the first things we did in Virgin Nigeria was to restructure the airline to stabilise and to come up with a five-year-plan that would be sustainable. Today is the birth of a new airline. African aviation will only ever be developed by Africans.”
The new branding was developed with the support of Interbrand of South Africa
The airline had concentrated on the domestic and regional routes and things were looking up for the airline especially after taking delivery of its first 2 new Embraer ERJ 190-200LRs (195s) registered 5N-VNH and 5N-VNI and signing technical agreements with Ethiopian Airlines and code-shares with Delta Airlines however in 2010 came Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim, again.
On 2 June 2010, following the acquisition of a majority share in the airline, Jimoh Ibrahim, the new Chairman, announced that the airline had undergone a further name change to Air Nigeria Development Limited, branded as Air Nigeria.
Even before the announcement, Captain Dapo Olumide, then managing director of the airline simply walked and then his Chief Operating Officer (COO) who was seconded to Nigerian Eagle due to its agreement with Ethiopian Airlines, Kinfe Kahssaye was made substantive managing director.
Things started going downhill from there as the chairman of Air Nigeria re-instituted routes that were bleeding the airline, there was also a lot of complains from pilots and engineers this fell of deaf ears as regulators were not willing to do anything about the elephant in the room, not until Dana Air on June 3, crashed in Iju-Ishaga.
The crash was an unexpected wake up call and this led the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to eventually ground the airline for safety checks.
That was it for Air Nigeria, another airline taken over by Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim but not before the airline boss could access the intervention fund getting over N35billion which he allegedly divested elsewhere thereby nailing the coffin of Air Nigeria once and for all.
The link between these five airlines, all defunct, is the maestro Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim with two failed stints in the aviation industry.
All the pictures used on this historical journey are from airliner.net