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"New era" in Canary Islands' ties with El Aaiun

Canary Island businessmen celebrating inauguration with Moroccan officials in El Aaiun

© Manuel Vidal / afrol News
afrol News Canarias, 15 March
- The airliner Binter Canarias this weekend inaugurated its first regular flight connection between the Canary Islands and El Aaiun in Western Sahara. A large business delegation met with the Moroccan authorities of the city, announcing "a new era in the relations between the two regions" due to the connection and a new business representation office.

The new weekly flight connection also marks the first international line outside the European Union for Binter, an airliner of the autonomous Spanish Canary Islands. Andreas Blass, Director General of Binter Canarias, stated his satisfaction with the inauguration and confirmed that the company foresees a 50 percent seat occupation and an additional weekly flight to be set up before this summer.

- With this new line, a new era starts in the relations between the two regions, said Mr Blass, "as not only the number of flight seats increases to a current 144 weekly seats, but they are also made more accessible, with prices affordable to everyone, from euro 150 for a roundtrip at minimum fares and euro 200 at tourist fares."

The official inauguration was assisted by the presidents of the two Canary Island Chambers of Commerce, José Manuel Suárez Gil and Ignacio González, in addition to an ample delegation from the archipelago's businesses and institutions. The Moroccan governor of the province of El Aaiun, Mohamed El Garrabi, also confirmed that the step taken by Binter was "a new step in the nearing between the two regions, which was initiated by the two Chambers in 2003."

The Canary Islands and the El Aaiun region have a long history of strong ties. As Western Sahara was a Spanish colony - El Aaiun being its capital - most transports from the Sahrawi town went through Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Since Morocco took possession of Western Sahara, however, Spain generally has avoided an official presence in the disputed territory. As investors from other countries now are lining up in El Aaiun, the Canary Islands are now however taking a more active attitude.

Binter's new connection is part of this initiative. After landing in El Aaiun, the principal act in the celebration of Binter's flight and the opening of a Canary Islands business centre took place at the seat of regional authorities. During the speeches made, the Wali Rharrabi called the rapprochement of the Canary Islands and "the southern provinces of Morocco" [Western Sahara] a "historic event." The new flight connection would ease the "transport of persons and goods."

The Moroccan official added that the new connection was "a basic element" to enable the investors from the Spanish archipelago to participate in projects in El Aaiun. He emphasised that this region "is starting to develop" its basic infrastructures and announced that in a near future, the quays of El Aaiun and of Dakhla would be made free trade ports.

The Moroccan Deputy Hassan Derhem followed up on these remarks, saying he was convinced the region held "business opportunities" for companies from the Canary Islands, especially in the tourism sector.

The inauguration flight by Binter Canarias was carried out in an ATR-72, which holds a capacity of 72 passengers. It will start on regular flights open to the public from Gando Airport in Gran Canaria starting 19 March. The flight line is somewhat over 200 kilometres and takes about half an hour.

In March and April, Binter plans for a frequency of one weekly flight, taking off from Gran Canaria each Saturday at 11 AM. From El Aaiun to Gran Canaria, flights will also go on Saturdays, at 12:30 noon. Prices are set at between euro 75 and 100 for a single trip. Sources with the airliner however indicate that with a sound demand, the frequency will be increased to several weekly flights.

The business society of the Canary Islands has reacted positively to the establishment of this new flight connection and foresees greater investments in El Aaiun due to this line. The Chamber of Commerce of Gran Canaria expects that the new connection will "facilitate economic, social and cultural cohesion between the archipelago and that city."

Encouraged by this support, Binter is also considering launching flight connections with the Moroccan tourist cities of Agadir and Marrakech. The aim of these potential flights would be to facilitate business relations and increasing the flow of tourists between the Canary Islands and these Moroccan cities. Both are major holiday destinations for European visitors.

To realise these projects, Binter is in contact with the Moroccan airliner Regional Airlines, discussing the possibility of launching flights between Gran Canaria and the two cities. The two airliners signed an agreement in June 2004, setting out cooperation plans. The deal, which was signed in Las Palmas during a visit by Regional Airlines executives, foresees new flight connections between Morocco and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

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