Big Sudan airline grounded, blames American sanctions

Big Sudan airline grounded, blames American sanctions

KHARTOUM- Agence France-Presse
Big Sudan airline grounded, blames American sanctions

A man looks at a magazine promoting the private airline Marsland Aviation.

A major Sudanese airline serving South Sudan and the Middle East has suspended operations blaming American sanctions, as a document confirmed German carrier Lufthansa will also end flights to Sudan.

“As from today, it was the last flight from Marsland,” Rashid Ortashi, chairman of Marsland Aviation, told AFP in an interview on Nov. 10.

The private airline, which he founded in 2001, flew to the South Sudanese capital Juba, two destinations in Sudan’s Darfur region as well as Jeddah and Cairo. 

“We are really begging, begging the USA to lift the sanctions on the private companies in Sudan. They are dying,” Ortashi said.

A document obtained by AFP said Germany’s Lufthansa, the last European airline with direct flights to Sudan, will end its service between Frankfurt and Khartoum on January 19.

“Lufthansa offers its customers an extensive worldwide network and regularly monitors its profitability,” says the letter to clients dated October 22 and signed by Hartmut Volz, the airline’s Sudan general manager.

“In this context it was decided to suspend services from Frankfurt to Khartoum.” An industry source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “the station is not doing well,” and that 12 staff will lose their jobs.

Early this year the Dutch carrier KLM ended direct flights between Amsterdam and Khartoum, citing rising costs.

Ortashi said foreign carriers were selling tickets in Sudanese pounds but had trouble converting their proceeds into US dollars for repatriation because of a shortage of hard currency in Sudan, which was the main reason they were pulling out of the market. Turkish Airlines as well as some African and Middle Eastern carriers still fly to Sudan.

For Marsland, American economic sanctions meant its three leased Boeing 737 jets could not be registered in Sudan but had to be listed in Georgia and Gambia at double the cost, Ortashi said.

“It’s not economical at all,” Ortashi said, noting that his company had suffered losses of around $3.5 million in six months. The government’s September decision to slash fuel subsidies added to the problem, he said.

Retail prices for gasoline and diesel rose more than 60 percent, sparking the worst urban unrest of President Omar al-Bashir’s 24 years in power. Dozens of people were killed.

Ortashi said Marsland switched from Russian aircraft to American Boeings in 2009 because of their better fuel economy and reliability.

“We thought we could solve the problem of spare parts and maintenance, but we found it really difficult,” he said.

Ortashi said that Marsland’s 260 local employees will now lose their jobs unless the company can obtain emergency funding to allow it to stay afloat.

The US imposed the trade embargo in 1997 over Sudan’s support for terrorism, efforts to destabilize neighboring governments and human rights violations.

Passengers flying to Juba may now have to go through Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, or Nairobi, Kenya, he said, although a new South Sudanese company also flies between Juba and Khartoum.

This comes as Sudan and South Sudan improve ties and seek to boost economic cooperation.

Sudan’s economy has been plagued by rising inflation, a shortage of hard currency, and a weakening Sudanese pound since South Sudan separated in 2011, taking with it most of Sudan’s oil production.

Ortashi said Marsland was the first private airline in Sudan to fly jet aircraft and was the biggest national carrier last year. It carried 300,000 passengers per year with its planes 90 percent full, he said.