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TheStreet Open House

Nigeria Starts Dismantling Its Plane 'graveyard'

By JON GAMBRELL

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) â¿¿ Landing in Nigeria's largest city, one of the first thing visitors see as they peer out of their airplane's windows is the moss-covered metal carcasses of what used to fly in Africa's most populous nation.

Workers at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos call it "the graveyard," an overgrown field filled with about a dozen cargo and passenger airplanes long since abandoned and left to rot by insolvent airlines. At least 65 abandoned airplanes, ranging from small commuter jets to one massive Boeing 747, sit at airfields across the country and serve as a haunting reminder of Nigeria's chaotic and disaster-filled aviation history.

Now, however, workers have begun dismantling the planes as part of a government plan to remake Nigeria's aviation industry. While some the federal government's plans seem aspirational at best, the modest goal of simply removing the derelict aircraft represents at least a change in a nation where corruption often ensures things remain exactly the scrambled way they are.

Nigerians "need to fly," said Henry Omeogu, director of airport operations at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria. "They need to fly and feel safe in their airplanes."

Not many Nigerians have felt safe flying since June 3, when a Dana Air passenger jet had both of its engines fail and crashed just north of the Lagos airport, killing 163 people. The crash came after a series of other major crashes in the country, where airlines often have shaky financing and rely on aged aircraft.

The graveyard at Murtala Muhammed, at the far north end of the runway where planes come in, is where the derelict planes serve as tombstones for those failed airlines. An airline called Space World has two aircraft there â¿¿ Hallelujah 1 and Hallelujah 2. Bellview Airlines has two planes there, left after the carrier collapsed following an October 2005 crash that killed 117 people.

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