Viewing cable 05LAGOS1450

05LAGOS14502005-09-19 09:48:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Lagos
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

190948Z Sep 05
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LAGOS 001450 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/15/2015 
REF: LAGOS 1289 
Classified By: Consul General Brian L. Browne for reason 1.4(d). 
¶1.  (U) This is an action cable. See paragraph 8. 
¶2.  (C) Summary.  Virgin Nigeria (VN) CEO, Simon Harford, and 
Head of Corporate Development, Yemi Osindero, recently told 
ConGen officers their application for a direct U.S. route was 
nearly completed, and requested Embassy officials submit the 
application to the Department of Transportation (DOT) once it 
had been finalized.  Harford also has appeared in public with 
the new Minister of Aviation, promising to work together to 
meet FAA category 1 requirements.  VN is hoping to use the 
prospect of it being a leader on safety issues as another 
fillip for DOT approval of a direct flight to the U.S.  VN 
hopes to obtain the DOT approval by Christmas 2005.  Mission 
requests guidance on whether to accept the VN application for 
forwarding or to advise VN to submit it directly to DOT.  End 
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Virgin Nigeria is Ready for Direct U.S. Flights 
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¶3.  (C) On September 12, Virgin Nigeria CEO Simon Harford met 
Consulate officials to discuss VN's application for a direct 
route to the United States.  He said the application would be 
completed by September 14 and asked if Embassy Abuja would 
forward the application to the DOT on VN's behalf.  He 
intimated a USG official at a recent aviation conference in 
Addis Ababa advised him to use Embassy channels to submit the 
application.  Harford expressed hope the turbulence that 
occasioned Continental's departure from the Nigerian market 
had dissipated.  He thought that VN's decision to ask the DOT 
first to send information on the application process, 
although it led to a two month delay in waiting for a 
response (reftel), had allowed some time to pass to heal any 
wounds.  Harford continued to stress the value of competition 
in the Nigerian market and hoped to get USG officials 
involved again in introducing a U.S. carrier.  Harford 
claimed miscommunications in the past between the GON and 
Embassy officials had created bad blood.  (Comment:  VN is a 
direct beneficiary of Continental's exit.  Thus, Harford's 
call for greater competition and the introduction of a U.S. 
carrier ring hollow.  VN did not lend a supportive voice when 
Continental was here, yet VN now laments only after 
Continental is good and gone.  End Comment.) 
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Airline Takes Prominent Role in Airport Safety 
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¶4.  (C) VN stressed they were working hand-in-hand with the 
new Minister of Aviation to reach category 1 safety standards 
for Nigerian airports.  They were quite specific about their 
leading role in the efforts and their close relationship with 
the GON; Harford even boasted that he would be appearing with 
the Minister in November at an aviation conference in Miami 
to roll out a plan for achieving benchmarks. 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
VN Sees Safety Certification as Key to U.S. Route 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
¶5.  (C) The GON had earlier requested a team of consultants 
to inspect airports and make recommendations for improving 
airport safety.  Surprisingly, given the close relationship 
between VN and the Ministry of Aviation, Harford was unaware 
of the request and the DOT's agreement to visit Nigeria. 
Harford wanted to meet the DOT team.  Harford emphasized VN's 
seminal role in augmenting the Ministry's efforts to improve 
safety standards, and noted that USG officials had commended 
their actions. 
¶6.  (C) In a separate conversation, one of VN's non-executive 
board directors said Harford was seeking authorization to 
begin hiring and purchasing airplanes for a planned Christmas 
flight to New York.  Boeing has already contacted the 
Consulate Security Office regarding the placement of 
consultants in Lagos to assist VN with the new planes.  It 
seems that the VN-Boeing meetings reported reftel are moving 
forward.  The VN Board, however, is cautious about expansion, 
and skeptical of Harford's ability to get the U.S. route so 
quickly.  In addition, VN's Board is concerned over domestic 
airline Chanchangi's recent doubling of salaries for pilots, 
which has caused a significant move of VN personnel to 
¶7.  (C) Comment.  Following the meeting reported reftel, this 
meeting represents VN's and Harford's second advance in their 
"charm offensive" with us.  Harford exuded confidence 
regarding VN's ability to meet DOT requirements for a U.S. 
route.  Underlying this confidence, however, is an 
uncertainty whether the USG would mete out the same treatment 
to VN that the GON gave to Continental.  At this last 
meeting, he dangled VN's commitment to improve airport safety 
to coax our support for VN's application.  When asked why it 
took so long for VN to submit the application, Harford 
expatiated that his airline was new and thus ignorant of the 
process.  (The latter part of this explanation no doubt was 
intended to show VN was not a vassal of the greater Virgin 
conglomerate.)  Harford is making a strong and suprisingly 
transparent effort to woo the Mission over to his side and, 
in doing so, is shaping facts to paint the rosiest possible 
picture of his airline's activities.  End comment. 
¶8.  (C) Action requested:  Mission requests guidance from 
State and DOT on whether to accept the VN application for 
forwarding, or to advise VN to submit the application 
directly to DOT.  Further guidance on whether it would be 
useful to have more in depth discussions with VN on safety 
issues is also requested.