Virgin Nigeria ceases

Debt-ridden Virgin Nigeria, the former national carrier, with which British tycoon Richard Branson's airline recently severed technical partnership, on Thursday changed its name in a bid to stay afloat…

"From today (Thursday), the name of Virgin Nigeria ceases. From today, we are now called Nigerian Eagle Airlines," the chief executive of the new airline, Dapo Olumide, told a news conference.

Although he did not give a precise reason for the name change, aviation experts said that the move was connected to Virgin Atlantic's decision last month to cut a technical cooperation deal with the former Nigerian carrier.

Although Branson's Virgin Atlantic has threatened to sell its shares in the airline Olumide said its 49 per cent stake remained.

"Virgin Atlantic still has 49 per cent share. It is free to sell its shares. The choice is up to them," he said.

Nigerian investors own the remaining 51 per cent stake.

Olumide Thursday admitted indebtedness of Virgin Nigeria but he did not give the exact figure.

Media reports have put the debt figure at about US$200 million.

Virgin Nigeria last month entered into a technical cooperation deal with Ethiopian Airlines immediately after Virgin Atlantic cut same deal with the Nigerian carrier, the spokesman of the new airline, Francis Akhigbe, said.

Under the accord, Addis Ababa-based Ethiopian Airlines, would maintain all the Boeing aircraft in the fleet of the new airline as well as train its pilots and crew, said Olumide, who also presided over the defunct airline.

He said that the new airline would honour all contractual obligations of Virgin Nigeria, which began operation in June 2005 as the country's first private sector flag carrier.

It had replaced state-owned Nigeria Airways, which was liquidated two years earlier following debts and corruption.

Virgin Nigeria suspended its long-haul flights to London and Johannesburg at the end of January.