For the first part of this blog series see:
A 1979 return to democracy was short-lived and there were two military coups, in 1984 and 1985. All three of these regimes were hopelessly corrupt with the latter one, which lasted from 1985-1993, run by Muhammadu Buhari seen in hindsight as creating a culture of corruption.
Nigeria Airways itself in July 1980 had a modern fleet of 3 707-320Cs, 2 727-200s, 2 737-200s, 2 DC-10s, 8 F27s and 8 F28s. An attempt at creating a long term trajectory was begun in 1979 when the Dutch flag carrier, KLM, was employed to manage the airline, with a big focus on the training of Nigeria personnel. Operational outcomes of this included a new service to Jeddah and an order for 4 A310-200s direct with Airbus. KLM's management and training contract expired in 1981 and wasn't renewed.
In 1982 Nigeria Airways acquired its largest ever equipment when it leased a Boeing 747-200B from SAS. The aircraft was kept for a year and then replaced by another SAS jumbo that operated three leases covering 2.5 years until January 1988. The 747 was used on the London route allowing the DC-10s to focus on the expanded European network which now included new routes to Zurich, Frankfurt and Paris. At various times extra DC-10s and 747s were leased during the 1980s to support the network or for Hadj flights.
The 737-200 was identified for fleet standardisation replacing the F27s and F28s. Five new 737-200s arrived in 1982/83 for this purpose. It is from this point on that things started to go seriously downhill for the airline. The 1984 coup installed Bernard Banfa as the CEO in place of Jan Smits and sacked many of the KLM trained staff.
During this period the new A310s were being delivered. They were to operate on high density regional routes, especially along the West African coast, and on the European services. To that end they were effective replacements for the 707s and 727s. All the A310s had been received by February 1985 and were equipped in a two class layout with 18 first class and 207 economy class seats. The 707s remained in service but both the 727s were sold and ended up at Alaska Airlines.
It is unlikely that Nigeria Airways was ever profitable but the veritable orgy of fraud that swept through Nigeria Airways in the 1980s and 90s was impressive even by African standards. A 2002 commission of inquiry reported 'a bacchanal of fraud where every administration was jostling to out-steal the one before it.' Worse nobody has ever been held responsible for the staggering fraud and in fact most of the perpetrators have gone on to lead highly public careers within Nigeria enriched by their theft. The fraud appears quite brazen, for example the boss betwen 1988 and 1990, Olu Bajowa, misappropriated the entire deposits ($4.35 million) for an MD-11 and an ATR-42. The money simply vanished and was never seen again.
It wasn't just the management of the airline taking anything not nailed down too. The rank and file staff, contractors and travel agencies were also stealing vast sums. For more information about some of the eye-watering volumes of fraud have a read of the following article:
Accordingly as early as 1987 Nigeria Airways was a disaster. The airline had 500 employees per plane, a highly variable schedule, forgot to serve meals and didn't honour reservations. Some staff were implicated in drug trafficking whilst others sold tickets independently of the airline. Nigeria Airways became the only carrier in IATA to be suspended for not paying debts meaning it couldn't write tickets for connecting services. The carrier became known as 'Nigeria Airwaste' or 'Nigeria Errways'. Despite this enormous drain on the carrier it also was forced to set domestic air fares by the government at an average of only 6c per mile, well below cost.
Despite the state it was in and the April 1987 admittance by the government, in the form of Nigeria's Minister of Transport and Aviation, Brig. Jerry Useni, that 'Our national airline is a disgrace. Lateness, delays, outright cancellation of flights and a nonchalant attitude of the staff toward customers are now part of your operational guide.' , nothing meaningful was done to stop the pillaging. In fact if anything things got worse. One obvious sign of the airline's decreasing standards was the loss of the DC-10 5N-ANR during a training flight on January 10, 1987. It was completely avoidable and due to poor procedures - for more details see the Aviation Safety Network report.
Some jobs were cut and so were services, as the airline continued its inexorable slide towards oblivion. Poor old Skypower seemed to carry most of the blame and was replaced by a new company logo - an N with an eagle in front of it. To be honest you had to squint to tell the difference as the livery remained effectively the same. The only equipment improvement was the lease of a DC-10 to replace the aircraft lost in 1987. This was originally supposed to have been an MD-11 but as stated above that was cancelled. In fact Nigeria Airways got the last DC-10 off the production line instead, but she never took up her Nigerian rego and was returned to World Airways in 1995.
In part 3 we'll take a look at Nigeria Airways in the 1990s and one of the few attempts to do something with the ailing carrier.
Nigeria Airways. Wikipedia
Nigeria Airways fleet. RZJets.net
Guttery, B. Encyclopedia of African Airlines.
2017. Investigations (Part 2): How officials, travel agencies robbed, ran Nigeria Airways aground. Premium Times
1987 NY Times. Nigeria's Flying Elephant
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: