Virgin Nigeria to start flights this month

Virgin Nigeria, the new Nigerian flag carrier which is 49 per cent owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, said on Monday that it would start its flying operations on June 28 with the launch of its first long-haul route between Lagos and London Heathrow.

The airline, which is 51 per cent owned by Nigerian institutional investors, said that the initially weekly service would quickly be expanded to three services a week using a 255-seat Airbus A340-300 leased from Virgin Atlantic.

Simon Harford, Virgin Nigeria chief executive, said that a schedule of short-haul services within Nigeria as well as regional destinations in Africa would be announced shortly and would begin in July.

The airline planned to be operating around 10 aircraft by the end of 2006, by which time the group would have around 100 Nigerian pilots and 400 Nigerian cabin crew.

The short-haul services would be started with two Airbus A320s on short term leases from Balkan Holidays, the Bulgarian tour operator, but Virgin Nigeria was also in separate advanced negotiations on a long term lease deal to meet its future fleet needs.

Mr Harford said, "We are intent on building for Nigeria the world’s leading airline that is based in Africa. We are intent on building a wide network of routes across Africa and beyond. We are also intent on operating to standards that allow Nigerian aviation to hold its head up high around the world."

He said, “equally, we are intent on taking this journey one careful step at a time, to ensure we do not compromise our standards and our service."

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