|Morocco - Morocco's RAM plans Africa expansion|
|Royal Air Maroc (RAM), encouraged by its majority shareholdings in the national airlines of Senegal and Gabon, is planning a major expansion of routes in Africa, a senior official said.
"The central thrust of RAM's development is the African gap in the market and the Casablanca hub is the key element in the company's strategy," Transport Minister Karim Ghalab told AFP.
RAM has held a 51-percent share in Air Senegal since 2000 and on December 29 it said it had been chosen by the government of Gabon to take a 51 percent stake in Air Gabon international.
Additionally "talks are at present under way" for RAM, said by its management to be North Africa's leading airline, to take a stake in the national carrier of the West African state of Mauritania.
Managers say that RAM, after having come close to bankruptcy in 1997 when it had to be rescued by the government, is now in good shape.
"After the successful launch of the low-cost airline Atlas Blue, RAM wants to extend its network in Africa," Ghalab said.
He said that flights to African destinations from Casablanca had increased by 55 percent in 2004 and 106 percent in 2005.
At the moment RAM flies directly from Casablanca to Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Tunisia.
It says it is increasing the number of flights and destinations.
"In the past Casablanca airport went to sleep at night whereas now check-in counters for African destinations are open round the clock," said an airline manager.
The number of flights from Casablanca to Dakar has doubled under a code-sharing agreement with Air Senegal International to 14 a week. RAM operates seven flights week to Abidjan and Tunis, six to Bamako, five to Nouackchott, four to Conakry and Algiers, three to Libreville, Douala, Ouagadougou, Lome and Cotonou and two to Niamey, Oran and Tripoli.
RAM and Atlas Blue carried more than 4.4 million passengers on scheduled flights in 2005, up 20 percent on 2004.
RAM says its strategy is to consolidate the Casablanca hub as an international platform for North African traffic to Europe, the Middle East and North America. It turned over $1.2 billion in 2005, up 15 percent on 2004.
Between now and 2012 the airline plans to spend $220 million a year on modernizing its fleet compared with $156 million a year in the period 2001-05.
Casablanca,01 09 2006
The Daily Star