Death knell for Air Afrique?

Author:Michaud, Paul
 
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Air Afrique, which had expected to improve its fortunes with the appointment earlier this year of its new chairman Sir Harry Tirvengadum, now looks set for further financial difficulties. Sir Harry himself has admitted to his entourage that the going is much tougher than he had imagined it would be when he accepted his post.

During a whirlwind tour this summer of the 11 African states who control 71% of Air Afrique's stock, Sir Harry had asked each country to pledge funding - to the tune of CFAfr11bn ($17m) - for a holding company (societe de patrimonie) which, with the support of ASECNA (Agence du controle Aerien Africain, a multilateral African air security organisation), would buy up 75% of Air Afrique's accumulated debt, estimated to be more than CFAfr200bn ($333m). The company would also have become proprietor of part of Air Afrique's fleet of Airbus A300 aircraft.

But, according to a French government source, this plan is far from being realised: many of the countries contacted have their own financial problems; others, who agreed to pledge funding, have been unable to keep their promises and are unlikely to be able to do so by 31 March 1998, the deadline given by Sir Harry for the creation of the holding company.

There is more trouble in store. Sir Harry has said that the French state, which until now has paid out substantial sums to allow Air Afrique to make ends meet, has told him categorically that it can no longer continue to bail out the airline, in which the state-controlled Air France holds a 12.1% percent stake.

A year ago, Air Afrique turned down a strategic commercial partnership with Air France, which many considered essential to its survival. Sir Harry then banked on a lower-level "micro...

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