Flag carrier Air Côte d’Ivoire (ACI) began operations in 2012 to replace its insolvent predecessor, Air Ivoire. The airline is now well established and serves Abidjan, Bouaké, Korhogo, San Pedro, Odienné and Man domestically, as well as 20 cities throughout West Africa.
ACI launched at the beginning of a period of strong economic expansion following the country’s political stabilisation in 2011, and has witnessed substantial traffic growth as a result. Passenger numbers grew to around 850,000 in 2017, from 700,000 in 2016 and 604,000 in 2015. In light of such rapid growth, ACI is seeking to expand and modernise its fleet – and in early 2016 the airline increased its capital from CFA25bn (€37.5m) to CFA63bn (€94.5m) to help it do so. In February 2017 ACI made plans to grow its capital to CFA130bn (€195m) over the next three years, and a CFA10bn (€15m) allocation under the 2016-20 National Development Plan will support the fleet upgrade via a state-funded or state-guaranteed capital increase.
In November 2017 the airline received a €98m loan from the African Development Bank (AfDB) to fund its purchase of five new Airbus A320s, according to Reuters. This will contribute to the renewal of part of its fleet of two owned Airbus A320s, and leased aircraft of four Airbus A319s and four Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s. Support from the AfDB also feeds into a programme to build a technical training centre and a maintenance centre, which will both have a sub-Saharan reach.
ACI’s expansion is part of wider efforts to re-establish Abidjan as a regional air transport centre. “Abidjan is less than three hours’ flight time from all major locations in the region, and ACI’s development of regular flights to most of these destinations is allowing Abidjan to develop itself into a regional hub,” Samir Azzouzi, regional commercial director at Air France, told OBG. “The facility’s only major rival is Lomé [in Togo], but Abidjan is likely to emerge the dominant of the two, as it offers more regular flights and passengers tend to prefer to travel via Abidjan,” he said, adding that Air France was working with the carrier to ensure the availability of quality onward connections.
Projects under way at Abidjan International Airport also support ACI’s expansion plans. “The increased interest in Côte d’Ivoire from existing or new airlines has previously been stunted by a lack of capacity at the airport, but developments such as the construction of the new taxiway will allow us and other airlines to expand our capacity,” René Decurey, CEO of ACI, told OBG. Various international carriers have been growing their activity at the airport; for example, Air France moved from one to two flights per day at the facility in April 2016, when it also increased the size of one of its planes based at the airport. Brussels Airlines service rose to seven flights per week in March 2017, while Portuguese airline TAP launched five weekly flights between Lisbon and Abidjan in July 2017.
In another potential boost to its development efforts, the airport could soon benefit from a direct link to the US, following Ethiopian Airlines’ announcement in early June 2017 that it had begun discussions about opening a route with the Ivorian Ministry of Transport. The Ethiopian carrier started operating a connection between Lomé and New York in July 2016.
To further increase passenger traffic at the airport, in January 2016 the government eliminated two taxes applied to people transiting the facility, worth a combined CFA3000 (€4.50), and cut two others in half for a total passenger savings of CFA9000 (€13.50) per trip. “The tax reductions did not represent a major drop, so the impact will be limited, but taxes are lower now than in much of the region, which will boost competitiveness,” Azzouzi told OBG.
Forecasting that authorities may reduce airport taxes further in the coming years, Aboubakr Machia, president of the Association of Airline Representatives, told OBG, “There is an emerging general consensus across Africa that in order to encourage south-south development, taxes on airfare cannot be too high.”
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