Economy & Politics

Gambia's news airline aims to spur regional integration

Gambia's president Adama Barrow leaves the airport in Banjul on January 26, 2017.  Gambian-owned Fly Mid Africa is seeking to fill a gap in the aviation sector in West Africa. FILE PHOTO | AFP
Gambia's president Adama Barrow leaves the airport in Banjul on January 26, 2017. Gambian-owned Fly Mid Africa is seeking to fill a gap in the aviation sector in West Africa. FILE PHOTO | AFP 

Freetown, Thursday

A new airline has been unveiled in West Africa.

The Gambian-owned Fly Mid Africa is seeking to fill a gap in the aviation sector in West Africa.

It made its maiden flight to Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown on Monday, ending a three-year break in direct link between the two countries.

The management of the airline says it will initially serve six West African destinations, namely Banjul, Freetown, Dakar in Senegal, Accra in Ghana, Lagos in Nigeria, and Monrovia in Liberia.

However, the flights to Monrovia would be delayed until August, pending the on-going works at the Robertsfield International Airport.

Fly Mid Africa’s maiden flight was a Boeing 737.

Both governments and the owners of the new airline hope the venture will drastically bring airfares down and, in the words of its managing director, Mr Bakary Nyassi, provide an affordable alternative for business and leisure travellers.

Regional integration

Mr Nyassi was quoted in a statement saying that Fly Mid Africa was committed to providing safe, reliable and efficient air transport to spur economic development and foster regional integration.
He said in Freetown that the focus of Fly Mid Africa was to alleviate the challenges Africans face in finding flight connections across key cities on the continent, especially West and Central Africa.

Fly Mid Africa is Gambia’s latest attempt at flight operation, after several past failures, including the Gambian Bird, which ceased operation in 2014, less than three years after inauguration.

Established in 2014, Fly Mid Africa, which uses the Banjul International Airport as its hub, is owned by Mid Africa Aviation Limited, which also offers asset management services.

The airline boasts a diversity of workforce from Gambia, Guinea Conakry, Ghana, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan.

Fly Mid Africa says it will use two Boeing 737-Classic aircraft in the West African venture: B737-300 comprising eight Business Class and 124 Economy Class seats, and B737-400, with 16 Business Class and 116 Economy Class seats.

“Flight connections within Africa should not be a nightmare. Business and leisure passengers should fly within the continent in style,” said Mr Nyassi, a former head of the beleaguered Gambia International Airlines.

Mr Nyassi said plans were also at an advanced stage to connect Francophone West African destinations.

Major relief

Fly Mid Africa comes as a major relief, particularly for Sierra Leoneans.
Gambia and Sierra Leone hold substantial numbers of each others’ citizens.

The last direct flight between Banjul and Freetown was on August 15, 2014 at the height of the Ebola epidemic.

Since then, many Sierra Leoneans have had to opt for the even longer and tedious journey by land.

Transport and Aviation minister Leonard Balogun Koroma, described Monday’s development as “historic'.

He said at the Lungi International Airport that the “long awaited” direct connection would facilitate trade and tourism among the countries covered by the airline.

It was the third inauguration of new flights to Freetown under Mr Koroma in five months.

The minister attributed this to confidence bestowed on the Sierra Leone government by business people.