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French Version

Morocco and Central African countries combine to launch new airline

Air Cemac to initially consist of three large long-haul passenger aircraft and regional jets
Central African officials and Royal Air Maroc (RAM) signed a protocol here Thursday to launch a new African airline as a joint venture under the name Air Cemac.

The new airline will be a regional one for nations in the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (Cemac in French) and the deal "takes into account the specifics of each member country," RAM chairman Mohamed Berrada announced.

Africa has already seen troubled bids to keep a multinational airline operating and profitable, with costly and often disastrous consequences because of chaotic management and sometimes rampant abuse and corruption.

Much excitement surrounds the new venture for which the royal Moroccan national carrier and Central African transport and aviation officials laid the groundwork in Gabon, during a state visit to the country by King Mohammed VI, though the airline was not part of his official program.

"Each state must give traffic rights to the community company, provide a good safety environment and authorize Air Cemac to be self-operating" with regard to maintenance on the ground, Central African Republic's Transport Minister Sonny M'pokomandji told AFP.

"This is a global accord which lays out the main principles" for the joint venture, Berrada said on behalf of RAM, which will run a holding company in charge of the fleet.

"For Morocco, RAM commits itself to provide Air Cemac with aircraft to ensure flight schedules, aircraft maintenance and technical personnel and whatever else is needed to make the firm viable," M'pokomandji said.

Berrada said the Air Cemac fleet will initially consist of three large long-haul passenger aircraft and regional jets. Alongside the RAM-run holding company, national companies will be set up in which it will be the majority shareholder.

The scheme, first mooted at the end of 2001, involves the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. The sixth Cemac nation, Cameroon, is still hesitant about getting involved.

The main aircraft "maintenance work will take place in Casablanca," where RAM has its headquarters, Berrada said. Each national company to be set up "will ask for flight times with the number of hours and regional and international destinations to be sold by the holding company," he added.

The executive secretary of Cemac who signed the accord, Jean Nkuete of Cameroon, said the negotiations among states can start "now," in order to see the first Air Cemac plane carry out a scheduled flight "by the end of the year."

"Headquarters will have exclusive control for five years of intercontinental traffic, by far the most profitable, and will run these flights directly," said a source close to the dossier, ahead of the signing ceremony.

"The national subsidiaries will keep their prerogatives in the continental and regional markets and will be able to lease flight hours to headquarters." RAM flies to some three dozen destinations in Europe.

Promoters say the arrangement will help avert a repeat of errors that doomed Air Afrique in 2002.

"Air Afrique died because of bad management and squabbles among its member states," M'pokomandji told AFP.

"We took that into account while creating a structure that will be based in our countries with a management that will be free of all political contingencies."

Casablanca,02 28 2005
The Daily Star
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