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Thu 17 Jul 2008 03:54 PM

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UAE airline to launch new Congo airline

RAK Airways to launch new national carrier in Democratic Republic of Congo within three months.

UAE-based RAK Airways plans to launch a new national airline in Democratic Republic of Congo within three months, a company representative said on Thursday.

RAK Airways, promoted by the government of tiny Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), will invest around $160 million and hold a 60 percent stake in the joint venture with the Congolese state.

Ras Al Khaimah is part of the oil-exporting United Arab Emirates (UAE) federation, which also includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

In addition to domestic routes and flights to Ras Al Khaimah, the new company, expected to be called Air Congo, will service several African destinations yet to be determined, with a fleet of nine aircraft.

"It's all or nothing. You really need to come with all the means, otherwise you won't be able to cover such a vast territory," RAK Airways' representative in Congo, Marc Orphanides told Reuters.

Orphanides said the airline was also looking into establishing long-haul flights to two destinations in China via its hub in the UAE.

The venture is the latest foray by the tiny emirate into the vast mineral-rich former Belgian colony. Last month, Rakeen Congo Ltd, a subsidiary of the state-sponsored property developer, broke ground on construction projects in the capital Kinshasa valued at $540 million.

RAK Minerals and Metals Congo, operated by Ras Al Khaimah's investment authority, is already involved in copper and cobalt exploration in Katanga province, Congo's mineral heartland.

Few passable roads traverse Congo, which has been blighted by decades of war, forcing the country's impoverished people to rely on often unsafe boats and planes to travel.

Congo has one of the worst air safety records in the world.

In April, at least 21 people were killed when a passenger jet slammed into a busy market after failing to take off from the eastern city of Goma. The accident was the country's fifth fatal plane crash in less than a year.

All Congolese airlines are currently on a European Union blacklist of companies banned from flying to European destinations.

Orphanides said Air Congo would need to be cleared by the EU before serving destinations outside Africa, a process he said could take six months to a year.

RAK Airways, launched two and a half years ago, is the UAE's third-largest carrier, with international routes to Colombo, Dhaka, Kolkata, Beirut, and Sofia. (Reuters)

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