x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Flights from Sudan to Kuwait to resume

The airlink was suspended for two decades following tensions created by the first Gulf War.

The executive director manager of Sudan Airways said the lack of flights between the countries was bad for business.
The executive director manager of Sudan Airways said the lack of flights between the countries was bad for business.

Direct flights between Sudan and Kuwait will resume for the first time in nearly two decades. An agreement between the government of Sudan and the Kuwaiti Aviation Authority was signed last week and will see Sudan Airways resume direct flights between Khartoum and Kuwait City after a 17-year hiatus. Ties between the two countries have been strained since the First Gulf War, in which Sudan supported Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. In retaliation, Kuwait expelled hundreds of Sudanese workers at the end of the six-month war.

Relations between the two countries have improved since the late 1990s. "When the Kuwaiti aviation delegation was here, they met with the local airlines and we came to the conclusion that not having a direct flight between the two countries is harming business," said Gamal Osman Eltom, the acting executive director manager of Sudan Airways. "The demand to fly to Sudan is really from the Kuwaiti side and not our side, since they now have a lot of businesses here in fields like agriculture and irrigation and they need to fly businessmen and labourers in all the time."

Last year, the Sudanese government sold a 49 per cent stake of Sudan Airways to the Kuwait-based Aref Investment Group in a deal worth about US$175 million (Dh643m). "Having Aref on our side certainly helped us reach the agreement of having direct flights," Mr Eltom said. However, flights from Khartoum to Kuwait City may not begin for two years because Sudan Airways has a fleet of just five aircraft to fly to international destinations.

"Our fleet is very small, but by the end of the year we are hoping to bring in four to five more planes. But from the Kuwaiti side, airlines like Wataniya [Airways] and Al Jezeera Airways could start right away," said Mr Eltom. Neither Wataniya, which will start operating in January, nor Al Jezeera have yet announced plans to fly to Sudan. "In about a month's time, we will be announcing the destinations we plan to fly to," said a spokesman from Wataniya Airways.

Sudan has a poor reputation for air safety, especially on domestic flights. In June, a Sudan Airways A310 flight crashed at Khartoum airport, killing 30 people. Five years ago, a Boeing 737 crashed near the eastern town of Port Sudan, killing 104 passengers and 11 crew. Sudan Airways flies to the UAE six times a week, while Emirates airline flies daily to Khartoum and Etihad Airways has five flights a week. "As you can see from other Gulf airlines, the demand is there, so I think this new route will be very profitable," Mr Eltom said.

Meanwhile, Lebanon's national carrier, Middle East Airlines Air Liban, recently said it was considering operating flights to Khartoum. * With Reuters abakr@thenational.ae