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By David Lewis and John Zodzi
LOME, April 26 (Reuters) - Togo-based ASKY airline is in talks with potential investors to strengthen its operations bfargeut leaders should bury pride and ambition to create a regional carrier serving West and Central Africa, its chairman said.
ASKY was set up in late 2007 in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines and seeks to help fill the void created by the collapse in 2002 of Air Afrique, a regional operator controlled by Francophone African governments.
With most economies enjoying robust economic growth, there is high demand for air travel in the region. But flights are expensive and frequently delayed and airlines are plagued by debt and bad management.
Now carrying 9,500 passengers a week, ASKY flies to 22 destinations across a patchwork of nations in West and Central Africa.
“We are looking for investors, new investors to be shareholders in the airline. We are in talks with a number of people,” Gervais Djondo, ASKY’s founder and chairman told Reuters this weekend.
Djondo said $50-60 million would be enough but he would take more if the deal was right. With a board meeting on May 8, Djondo said he could not give details on the talks or what the investment would be used for.
Lome-based ASKY has no immediate plans to expand to Europe or East Africa, he said. Before setting up ASKY, Djondo co-founded the pan-African group Ecobank.
He said that the cost of the airline business and the fact that West and Central Africa is mostly made up of small nations, meant countries should put aspirations to have a national carrier aside to focus on a regional outfit.
“But we have the impression the Francophone countries never want to give anything up for a common cause that might make us stronger,” he said. “One country wants the headquarters, the other wants the managing director, the other wants to have the captain. It is sad.”
Djondo cited the case of Senegal Airlines, which has accumulated 45 billion CFA francs ($74.63 million) in debt since being relaunched following a 2010 collapse.
“It is not the first time and others will follow if we don’t do anything,” he said. Several national carriers are seeking cash and strategic partners to stay afloat.
While Air Afrique was controlled by regional governments, Djondo said the solution for the region’s airline needs was a public-private partnership run as a private business.
“That will come, maybe even after I have gone,” said the 82 year-old. “If ASKY must be folded into something else or another folded into ASKY, so be it. We are ready for anything so long as it brings us together.” ($1 = 603.0000 CFA francs) (Reporting by David Lewis and John Zodzi; Editing by Emma Farge and Rosalind Russell)