Sudan Airways battles to retain limited network

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Sudanese flag-carrier Sudan Airways is struggling to hold on to its network and maintain services in the face of political sanctions which have persisted for 16 years.

The Khartoum-based airline has been pressured for years by US restrictions imposed in November 1997 and has had to deal with the relatively recent succession of South Sudan – which, not being subject to the sanctions, has been pursuing its own carrier.

Sudan Airways is also blacklisted under the blanket European Commission ban on Sudanese operators.

“Most of our fleet is grounded,” says general manager Abdul Mahmoud Suliman Mohamed. “We’re trying to keep alive routes with leased aircraft.”

He declines to clarify precisely how much of the carrier’s fleet – around a dozen aircraft – is still operational, simply saying: “Less than 10.”

Suliman was speaking during the Arab Air Carriers Organization conference in Doha. The organisation’s latest statistics for its member carriers lists Sudan Airways as having just two aircraft, both Airbus A300s.

“Although the potential is there [we are limited] in terms of capability to support that potential,” says Suliman. “There’s a limitation to the extent we can go.”

While the airline is “trying to open up”, he says, its prospects remain uncertain. Privatisation of the carrier via Kuwaiti investors failed to last and the airline was renationalised.

Sudan Airways wants to protect its shrunken network, which includes links to Saudi Arabia and other regional destinations. Suliman adds that there is a “need for domestic flights”.

While closure of the airline has been considered, Suliman believes that developing a new state carrier is an unattractive option. “Even though we’re at the very bottom, we have history,” he says, adding that, owing to the sanctions, the government would still face difficulty in starting afresh after scrapping the airline.