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Ivory Coast eyeing direct flights to US

Ivory Coast is in talks with three African airlines to operate the first direct route from the West African country to the US by early 2018.

Bloomberg reports the Ivorian government views a direct air route to the US as one of the best ways to attract more investors to its fast-growing economy.

Olivier Monnier reports the most advanced discussion between Transport Minister Amadou Kone’s office and three potential partner airlines is with Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise, which is ready to send a delegation to Ivory Coast in a couple of weeks (end October or beginning November 2017). Ethiopian is Africa’s largest carrier by passenger traffic.

“It won’t be easy”

The other Airlines being mooted is Kenya Airways (KQ) and South African Airways (SAA). The SAA possibility seems unlikely taken the fact that the South African national carrier is in dire financial difficulties and had already started cutting down on some of its routes in an attempt to save money. The embattled airline is relying on a government-led recapitalisation plan to remain in operation and has already had two bailouts from the state treasury this year to avoid defaulting on debt.

Kone said his department is pushing for direct flights to the US as early as January next year. “That’s my objective. I’m not saying it will be easy but I’m working on it.”

The move would fit with the strategy of Ethiopian Airlines, which is pushing to consolidate its lead as the continent’s biggest airline by exploiting new hubs.

AirlineGeeks.com reports Ethiopian became the first outside of Japan to operate the 787 in 2012 as they commenced operations on intra-Africa flights before putting it on other routes, including Washington D.C. In 2014 the airline announced its intentions to expand its route network with flights to Los Angeles via Dublin.

Continuing international expansion

Last year (2016), the airline announced a net profit of 6.13 billion ETD ($226 million), their largest yet. Parker Davis, writing for AirlineGeeks, says Ethiopian’s route network currently includes 94 destinations. “(The airline) appears poised to continue that trend. Ethiopian is still slated to take delivery (of) 19 Airbus A350, 30 Boeing 737 MAX, and four Boeing 787-9 over the course of the next few years, which will allow them to continue their international expansion as they see fit.”

Bloomberg reports a direct route from Abidjan to New York should attract more investors to the West African nation and help Abidjan position itself as a regional hub. Ivory Coast’s economy has expanded by an average 9 percent per year since 2012, while President Alassane Ouattara’s government has lured companies including Carrefour SA to the country and initiated several infrastructure projects, including an Abidjan urban railway.

KQ direct flights to US

Meanwhile Kenya Airways (KQ), almost 27 percent owned by Air France-KLM, has said it’s seeking a US partner to start transatlantic flights. Earlier reports indicate that direct flights from Nairobi to the United States may be on the cards after Kenya’s flag carrier was granted rights to fly into US airspace earlier this year (2017). At the time Kenya’s Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said, however, several other license agreements still needed to be secured before the first direct flight to the US could happen. It is not expected until March 2018.

LogisticsUpdateAfrica reports that one of these license agreements will have to be an Air Service License, which will give the airline commercial approval. Another crucial requirement is to acquire an Air Operating Certificate, which will give KQ Airways the technical authority to operate in the US. KQ is yet to get the go-ahead from the US-Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before commencing direct flights to America.

In February this year (2017) Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) attained “Category one” status – having met US authority standards with the government pouring over $12 million into the refurbishment of the airport.