Tunisian start-up Syphax to operate Airbus fleet

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Tunisian start-up Syphax Airlines plans to launch services to Europe from the country's second city, Sfax, in May 2012 with two leased Airbus A319s.

Syphax Airlines - named after the port city's ancient Roman name - is majority-owned by Tunisian businessman Mohamed Frikha, founder of Tunis-based engineering services company Telnet, which has a site in Sfax.

Frikha said Syphax is the first privately-owned Tunisian scheduled carrier and received the formal go-ahead to operate from the government on 10 September. It will be the only airline based at Sfax's under-used Thyna airport, although the city is serviced from Tunis by flag-carrier Tunisair several times a week.

Frikha said cities in France, Germany and Italy would be the first destinations, with others in Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Turkey to follow. He said the airline, which is recruiting pilots and other staff, was in talks with Airbus about acquiring A320s.

Tunisia's post-revolutionary administration is keen to promote commercial links to Sfax - which has a population of just over 1 million - and the central and southern parts of Tunisia, which the former regime of deposed president Ben Ali was often accused of neglecting. Frikha said the venture had the "full support" of the government, although it was being funded entirely by private investors.

"The revolution demonstrated that there is a big gap between [the capital] Tunis and the rest of the country. Our move is very important for the region and its economic development," he said.