afrol News, 30 August - In November this year, Air Comores International will embark on its first regional and intercontinental flights. The airtransport company has already been established in Moroni, with capital from private and government sources in Comoros, from French airliners and with the "active participation" of Air Bourbon, the airliner of the French colony Réunion. Other Indian Ocean airliners face tougher competition.
Air Comores International has large ambitions of becoming a major airliner of the Indian Ocean region. Its destinations are to focus on France and French colonies in the Indian Ocean. Direct flights from the Comoran capital Moroni will include Paris and Marseille in France, the French islands Mayotte (in the Comoran archipelago) and Réunion, in addition to Mauritius and Dubai.
The airliner further has announced less developed plans to fly on several other regional destinations from Moroni. These include Antananarivo, Majunga and Nosy Bé in Madagascar, Zanzibar and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania and Nairobi and Mombassa in Kenya. While the schedules for the other destinations already are decided, these planned regional flights are still to be negotiated.
In addition to increasing flight access to Moroni, Air Comores International is to strongly enhance traffic to Réunion's southern city Saint Pierre. While Air Bourbon shuttles between Europe and the Reunionese capital Saint Denis at the northern point of the popular holiday destination, the new Comoran airliner is to serve Saint Pierre. In fact, all the decided-on international flights by Air Comores are to start in Réunion's Saint Pierre, while making a stop-over in Moroni.
Air Comores' large focus on Saint Pierre is derived from the key part plaid by Air Bourbon in the new airliner's establishment. The Reunionese airliner - which has its name from France's old royal dynasty and Réunion's first name, Île Bourbon - has taken part in the entire process of creating the new company, including security and service routines.
Air Bourbon itself, was only established in November 2002 with French and Reunionese capital. The company does not want to state the size of its economic interest in Air Comores, but this is believed to be substantial. In Moroni, Air Comores is even headquartered at the offices of Air Bourbon. The first official presentation of the new Comoran airliner was further made by Air Bourbon President Érick Lazarus at the Saint Pierre airport, Réunion.
According to the Reunionese press, Mr Lazarus this weekend said that launch of Air Comores in cooperation with Air Bourbon would create a synergy effect for the two airliners within "the spirit of regional cooperation." Réunion's southern city Saint Pierre would also highly profit from the new direct flights via Moroni. More than a quarter of Air Bourbon's customers were from southern Réunion, he added.
The objective of the new airliner, according to Mr Lazarus, is to open all the axes of traffic to Comoros and Mayotte and promote the "immediate development of the economy and the tourism sector" of the Comoran archipelago. The link to Réunion will assure that flights from France to Comoros are not empty while the troubled island nation tries to rebuild its tourism sector.
The new airliners Air Comores and Air Bourbon are entering a market that is increasingly fought over by national and regional airliners. The south-western Indian Ocean islands are a popular tourist destination among Europeans, in particular Mauritius, Réunion and Seychelles. Neighbouring Mayotte, Madagascar and Comoros all have plans to make tourism a key sector for economic development.
The new Reunionese - Comoran alliance is challenging the more established block of airliners that so far have dominated the region and have secured high prices from the region's top-end tourists. Air Seychelles, Air Mauritius and the French-owned Réunion-based Air Austral have for years cooperated in a regional network, even offering an "Indian Ocean Pass" to intercontinental passengers wanting to explore more than one island.
The regional block has however experienced problems due to increased competition lately. In April, Air Seychelles had to suspend its weekly flights to Comoros and Mayotte "due to a reduction in passenger traffic" and "substantial competition from other regional airlines operating more frequencies between Réunion and the Comoros and Mayotte." Air Seychelles had lost onwards customers to these islands, connecting from their direct France-Seychelles route.
The new combined network of Air Comores and Air Bourbon presents a challenge to older companies' regional networks and intercontinental connections as Moroni and Saint Pierre on Réunion are developed into new Indian Ocean hubs. Air Bourbon already has demonstrated an intention on competing on price, offering Paris-Réunion roundtrips from euro 522. The future success of a Moroni hub however remains to be seen.
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