The Nigerian state quickly moved towards independence during the late 1950s with self government for the various regions from 1957-59. Unfortunately the north-south religous split of Nigeria from the start created ethnic tensions, which have hamstrung Nigeria's development. Full independence for the nation was gained on October 1, 1960 and by this time it already had a national airline - Nigerian Airways.
Nigeria had been the senior partner (with 68% of the shares) in the former West African Airways Corporation (WAAC) but as the other constituent countries gained independence they formed their own airlines and WAAC was dissolved on September 30, 1958. WAAC's livery had included green cheatlines and a flying elephant logo known as 'Skypower'. The new Nigerian Airways (later Nigeria Airways) took on both of these aspects and Skypower would become synonymous with the airline until the 1990s. The original shareholding was apportioned 51% to the Nigerian government, Elder Dempster Lines (a UK shipping company) had 32.75% and BOAC had 16.25%. This didn't last and in March 1961 the entire shareholding was owned by the Nigerian government
A 15 year agreement was signed with BOAC by which Nigeria Airways would lease equipment from the British flag carrier and operate international services to London in a pool arrangement (common at the time). These operations began using a B-377 Stratocruiser, but as early as April 16, 1959 a new Britannia 312 tookover the Lagos-London service. As BOAC's equipment upgraded so did the aircraft used and on April 1, 1962 the Britannia was replaced by a leased Comet 4. The domestic fleet was still built around the trusty DC-3 but orders were placed for D.H. 114 Herons and Fokker F27s, which arrived in 1962 and 1963 respectively.
The airline was by now looking at getting its own jets and ordered a pair of Standards in early 1961. These were designated as type 1104s but the airline struggled to afford them and the order was cancelled. A pair of BOAC VC10s were utilised from 1964 in co-operation with BOAC on the Lagos-Kano-London service. Nigeria Airways also began a New York service in 1964 but that merely blocked space on an existing Pan Am 707. The success of the VC10 operations inspired Nigeria Airways to fully lease a BOAC aircraft and in January 1966 G-ARVC arrived fully painted into green Nigeria Airways colours. She was operated for a year but the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War (also known as the Biafran War) in July 1967 no doubt had a major impact on the operations of the national airline and its need for jets. BOAC continued to operate VC10s in conjunction with Nigeria Airways but they wore the BOAC scheme from then on - possibly partly due to security fears.
The Biafran conflict lasted until January 1970, with horrific civilian loss of life and human rights abuses. The British government supported the Nigerian military government over the secessionist Biafrans and so kept good relations with Nigeria Airways. By 1968 VC10s were again wearing Nigeria titles. With the war almost over, in September 1969, Nigeria Airways purchased the BOAC VC10 G-ARVA, and she became 5N-ABD. The aircraft was painted into a much modernised livery, which would become broadly representative of Nigeria Airways until it's final collapse, albeit with thinner cheatlines and a reoriented tail flag.
G-ARVA, was the first production VC10, but despite its registration was not BOAC’s first VC10 and wasn’t delivered until December 1964. Unfortunately the aircraft survived barely two months in Nigeria Airways service and was lost 14km from Lagos killing all 87 onboard. The crash report did not identify the exact course of the first write-off a VC10 however it appeared to be pilot error with the plane losing visual contact with the ground in bad weather and striking palm trees. Full details of the loss of 5N-ABD can be found at the excellent www.vc10.net. Click the button below for some VC10derness :)
The arrival of the first 707 in 1971 actually coincided with the airline officially becoming Nigeria Airways - before then technically it was known as WAAC-Nigeria Ltd. In the 1970s Nigeria Airways was still flying high, bankrolled by the government. By the mid-70s it was time to join the widebody bandwagon and in part 2 we'll look at the airline as it reached its peak and began to sink into a sea of mismanagement, corruption and waste.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: