Virgin Nigeria buys bevy

 - November 11, 2007, 6:41 PM

Virgin Nigeria has signed for up to 24 Embraer E-Jets worth $811 million at current list prices and is trying to persuade the manufacturer to establish a regional maintenance center for the type in Lagos.

The firm order covers seven Embraer 170 Advanced Range and three E-190AR aircraft, plus options for six E-190ARs and purchase rights for eight E-190/195s. The airline’s CEO, Conrad Clifford, said here yesterday that it had not considered the Sukhoi Superjet but had picked the E-Jets after evaluating them against rival Bombardier’s RJs because of their superior headrooom and cabin baggage stowage. “Those are really important considerations for Nigerian customers,” he said.

Virgin Nigeria chairman Felix Ohiwerei said he expects the first aircraft in the third quarter of next year and the last in 2011. “The choice of Embraer was premised on our desire to totally renew our fleet based on environmentally friendly, low-noise, fuel-efficient aircraft,” he said, adding that the deal marked the start of “a new chapter in Nigerian air transport.”

Clifford said VNA plans to use the airplanes to build an international network based on hubs at Lagos and Abuja. “We will fly to all the countries in West Africa from those two cities with a domestic feeder network to support them.” Virgin Nigeria has a hangar under construction at Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International airport “and we hope to lure Embraer into setting up a regional maintenance center there,” he said.

Formed in September 2004, VNA is the country’s third largest airline and is 51-percent owned by Nigerian institutional investors and 49-percent by Virgin Atlantic.