Air France restores flights to Algeria

French national carrier lands in Algiers after a nine-year absence.

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By  John Irish Published  July 2, 2003

Travellers to and from Algeria are set to benefit from increased services to France’s former colony after Air France (AF) restored regular flights to the North African state on June 28 following a nine-year absence.

The AF flight 3538 left Paris-Orly at 7:30 am, arriving in Algiers about 75 minutes later. Among the passengers was French Transport Minister, Gilles de Robien, his Algerian counterpart Abdelmalek Sellal, Air France president Jean-Cyril Spinetta and a French business delegation.

The airline suspended its services to the Algerian capital in December 1994 following the hijacking of an A300 at Algiers International Airport, which resulted in the death of 3 passengers.

“We are pleased to once again operate services to Algiers. In fact, Air France is responding to the wishes of the public by reaffirming its will to restore this destination, which is intrinsically linked to its history,” said Spinetta in a statement.

The carrier will operate three daily flights to Algiers, two from Paris and one from Marseille with a view to increasing schedules as demand grows.

An Air France delegation, headed by Etienne Rachou, the airlines European chief of operations, which includes Algeria, had recently visited the former colony to pave the way for the move. However, one of the main stumbling blocks was the issue of security.

For many years, AF called for French security officers to carry out passenger checks in Algiers, but the Algerian authorities continuously refused to accept this. While no official confirmation on the exact security arrangements was made, a spokesperson for Air France confirmed that plain clothed security officers would be aboard all aircraft.

“At no stop-over in the world are security measures as rigorous as those that have been put in place for the Algiers stop-over,” Spinetta told reporters.

According to experts the move has come about for political reasons rather than commercial, highlighting the improvement in relations between France and its former colony since French President Jacques Chirac visited Algiers in March.

AF will no doubt be looking to tap into France’s large Algerian community, which, at present exceeds the 1 million mark. Figures from the French civil aviation authority (DGAC) show that in 2002 alone, 1.9 million people travelled between the two countries, a substantial increase from the 1.24 million in 1994.

Since 1994, Air Algeria and Khalifa Airways have served the France-Algeria route on the Algerian side, while Aeris, Air Lib and Air littoral have flown in from the French side. Recently, both Air Lib and Khalifa Airways were forced to withdraw their services, leaving Air Algerie and Aigle Azur as the only airlines covering the Paris-Algiers route.

Meanwhile, Air Algerie is set to announce the purchase of eight planes from Airbus. According to AFP, Abdellah Sbai, vice-president of the airline confirmed the order would include five wide-bodied A330s and three A320s.

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