Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Asky Takes On Air France as West African Carrier Eyes Europe

Asky Airlines plans to extend its route network to Paris and Johannesburg from its home region of West Africa as the carrier part-owned by Ethiopian Airlines seeks to increase passenger numbers and revenue.

The airline plans to start direct flights between the French capital and its hub in Lome, the capital of Togo, this year or next, Chief Executive Officer Henok Teferra said in a phone interview last week. A Johannesburg service could be introduced by mid-2017, while Asky is also considering a route to Beirut, Lebanon. Passengers could travel from the new cities through Lome to the airline’s 23 other destinations in West and Central Africa, including Accra and Lagos.

“Paris is among our priority destinations,” Teferra said. “There is significant traffic between France and francophone countries in west and central Africa.”

The new routes will help Asky grow independently of Ethiopian, which owns a 26 percent stake in the Togolese carrier and uses Lome’s Gnassingbe Eyadema airport as a stop off for transatlantic routes to New York and Sao Paulo. Asky will become the second carrier after Air France-KLM to operate a direct Lome-Paris service. The airline is also adding sub-Saharan Africa routes, to Mauritania and Cape Verde.

Growing DemandDemand for air travel in the region is rising alongside household incomes and economic growth, Teferra said. Asky will add to its eight-plane fleet this year through a lease of two Boeing 737-800s and aims to boost its number of passengers to 650,000 this year from almost 600,000 in 2016. The company made its maiden profit in 2015, five years after starting up, and is upbeat about prospects this year, the CEO said. It hasn’t yet reported earnings for 2016.

Sub-saharan African economies are predicted to grow by 2.8 percent this year and 3.7 percent in 2018, according to the International Monetary Fund. That compares with an estimated 1.6 percent last year.

The airline is open to discussions with potential new investors, Teferra said. Other stakeholders include Lome-based Ecobank Transnational Inc. and the West African Development Bank.

“We are expanding, we’re growing and growth needs financing,” the CEO said. “We’re always in search of long-term investors willing to take part in the company’s development.”

(Olivier Monnier and Kossi Woussou - Bloomberg News)

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