By Audrey D’Angelo,
Eritrean Airlines arrived on its first flight to Cape Town on Monday (7). For the rest of the year it will fly here four times a week, bringing international visitors who joined the flight in Eritrean’s home airport of Asmara from some of its other destinations, including Rome, Frankfurt, Jeddah, Karachi, Lahore and Khartoum.
The airline expects most of its passengers to use it for connecting flights, as is the case with Emirates and KLM, at least in the beginning. But it hopes to build up a tourism market for Eritrea itself, and the country also has a growing mining industry which is already attracting business travellers from SA.
It has chosen to fly here because of SA’s popularity with international tourists and because it is the leading economy in Africa. The airline is state-owned and was dormant for a time, but the government has revived it, leasing its fleet of Airbus aircraft complete with flight crew from European airlines.
This is because, like SA, it has realised the importance of the international tourism industry as a creator of jobs and earner of foreign exchange.
The aircraft all comply with the International Civil Aviation Organisation safety standards and the A 319 used on the Cape Town flight offers eight business class and 140 economy seats.
It will also serve Joburg but, unusually, on Mondays and Fridays it will fly first to Cape Town and then on to Joburg. On Wednesdays and Sundays it will reverse this procedure, flying first to Joburg and then to Cape Town, with a refuelling stop in Entebbe, Uganda, on the way back to Asmara.
Asmara was described in one of the Lonely Planet guides as “one of the most agreeable cities in Africa”, and David James, a former senior executive with SAA, who is now commercial director of Eritrean and lives in Asmara, says he agrees with this.
Eritrea is a former Italian colony and there is still a strong Italian influence in its architecture.
Asmara has several Italian restaurants, although English is the language of business and is widely spoken in the city. It is already attracting Italian tourists. James said it has a pleasant climate without humidity, although Eritrea is in the Horn of Africa, bordering on Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti, because the city is on the central plateau at a height greater than Joburg’s.
It is connected to the Red Sea coast, where the heat and humidity are much greater, by a railway line built by Italian engineers and used now for a weekly tourist train running between Asmara and two towns on the coast.
James believes these towns and the offshore islands will replace Egypt’s Red Sea resorts because they offer similar diving while some visitors are cautious about returning to Egypt after the Arab Spring.
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