Lonrho eyes Congo, Nigeria and Ghana for Fly540 start-ups

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Transport and mining conglomerate Lonrho is considering regional airline start-ups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Ghana, as it readies for the spring launch of Fly540 Angola.

Lonrho is aiming to build a network of pan-African regional carriers in co-operation with local partners, operating under its Fly540 banner.

These start-ups will follow the same model as Lonrho’s Kenyan carrier, Nairobi-based Fly540, which launched operations in November 2006. It now operates three ATR 42s – with another slated for imminent arrival - two Bombardier Dash 8 Q200s and two Fokker F-27 freighters.

Lonrho CEO Geoffrey White tells ATI: “The idea was always to create a first world, pan-African airline. We are very focussed on standards and quality, bringing European and international standards to our operation.”

He describes the Nairobi operation as a “toe in the water” and says Lonrho is planning roll-outs in other African countries

Last year Lonrho revealed plans to launch Fly540 Angola in partnership with Angolan investor GEFI and its aviation subsidiary Planar. White says the new Angolan carrier, which will operate ATRs and British Aerospace BAe146s, will begin flights in March or April. “They are 90% there,” he says.

The Angolan start-up will initially serve 15 domestic routes, before branching out into international operations. This mirrors the development plan for Fly540 Kenya, which will begin international services to Entebbe in Uganda, Juba in Sudan and Congo within the next quarter.

Further-expanding the Fly540 model, White says: “We are talking with three other hub countries where we want to be based.”

He says Lonrho expects to establish Fly540 airlines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Ghana. He adds: “We establish full service, independent businesses with local partners. We are in a dialogue now and will move as quickly as we can.”

Brussels Airlines is also planning to launch a new Congolese carrier in partnership with Hewa Bora Airways. The carrier, which has been named AirDC, is slated for an early 2008 launch. But White is unfazed by this plan, saying: “I think the market is sufficiently large that there is business for everybody.”

Lonrho’s Lonrho Air subsidiary recently signed a purchase agreement for eight new ATR 72-500s to support the development of its wholly-owned subsidiary Fly540 Africa. White says: “We are definitely talking about other [aircraft] acquisitions.”

He explains that Lonrho Air is the operational arm and aircraft owner for the Fly540 ventures. Fly540 Africa will act as a holding company, owning the stakes in the various individual Fly540 joint ventures.