Ivory Coast Targets First Direct Flight to U.S. by Early ’18

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IVORY COAST, OCTOBER 9, 2017 – Ivory Coast is in talks with three African airlines to operate the first direct route to the U.S. by early 2018 as the West African nation seeks to attract more investors to its fast-growing economy.

The most advanced discussions are with Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise, which is due to send a delegation to Ivory Coast before the end of the month, Transport Minister Amadou Kone said in an interview. Africa’s largest carrier by passenger traffic leads Kenya Airways, which only made “first contact” with the government last week, and South African Airways, he said.

“I’m pushing for it to happen, that we have a flight at the end of the year or in January 2018,” Kone said in his offices in the commercial capital of Abidjan, where the flights would depart from. “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, which is pushing to consolidate its lead as the continent’s biggest airline with new hubs and already flies to Ivory Coast and the U.S. SAA is relying on a government-led recapitalization to remain in operation and has had two bailouts this year to avoid defaulting on debt. Kenya Airways, almost 27 percent owned by Air France-KLM, has said it’s seeking a U.S. partner to start transatlantic flights.

A direct route to a city such as New York would attract more investors to the West African nation and help Abidjan position itself as a regional hub, Kone said. 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.

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More than 400,000 passengers travel from West Africa, excluding Nigeria, to the U.S. every year, according to Kone. SAA already flies from Accra, the capital of Ghana, to Washington D.C. while Delta Air Lines Inc. of the U.S. operates a route from the same city to New York.

Separately, Bollore SA of France will this month start work on upgrading the railway linking Abidjan to Kaya, north of Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou, Kone said. The project, estimated to cost 400 million euros ($468 million), will renovate about 800 kilometers (497 miles) of track operated by Sitarail, a rail company controlled by Bollore, he said.

The Ivory Coast-Burkina train mainly transports goods between the two West African nations. Landlocked Burkina Faso, Africa’s biggest cotton producer, relies on access to Ivory Coast’s ports for both imports of goods and exports of its commodities.

The line is part of Bollore’s project to build West Africa’s biggest railway network linking five countries in the region.

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