Royal Air Maroc (RAM) is picking up routes in West Africa from defunct West African carrier Air Afrique as it seeks to develop its Casablanca base into a major hub.

According to RAM's chief executive officer Mohamed Berrada, the airline wants to let passengers " fly to New York or Middle Eastern destinations without having to transit via Paris". Berrada says the move is being undertaken "in co-ordination" with minority shareholder Air France, which has a 3.97% stake. The French flag carrier is also strengthening its West African network, but Berrada denies the two airlines are battling it out in this market. "There is no question of a fight," he says. "We aim to provide a complementary service."

Berrada says from 7 May there will be five Casablanca-New York flights weekly, peaking at daily flights in the summer with the airline's new Boeing 767-300ERs. "We aim to fill this aircraft in part with passengers from West Africa," he adds.

On 30 March, RAM inaugurated three flights a week from Dakar, Senegal, to Paris via Air Sénégal International, 50% owned by RAM.

Backing its network expansion plans, RAM will introduce 26 new aircraft during the next decade, including 20 Boeing 737-700/800s and its first Airbuses - four A321s. "We'd asked for a one-year delay in our delivery schedule after 11 September - but traffic has picked up over the past three months, so we've reviewed the delay and are now respecting the original delivery times," says Berrada.

The airline's two remaining 737-200s will be retired from service at year-end, although one may be converted to a freighter, RAM says, so that by 2012, the carrier will have a fleet of 52 aircraft.

Snecma Morocco Engine Services (SMES), RAM's joint-venture with Snecma Services, handled 60% of engine repairs for African airlines last year, and plans to launch a $5 million expansion programme. SMES general manager Oliver Savin says: "African airlines represent around 50% of our business." The other half comes mainly from European airlines including CSA Czech Airlines, Jet Airways, Maersk Air, Malev and Transavia Savin says SMES's $5 million investment will develop its capacities for cleaning and non-destructive test processes, "enabling us to maintain and repair engines to depths at which we currently have to send the engines to Europe".

Source: Flight International