After suspending chartered flights by virtual carrier Antigua Airways, the government of Antigua and Barbuda says it is now talking to Nigeria's Air Peace (P4, Lagos) to provide connectivity to West Africa.

During a recent post-Cabinet press briefing, Information Minister Melford Nicholas said the government was still committed to establishing commercial air routes between West Africa out of Nigeria to Antigua to promote tourism, commerce and culture, reported the Antigua Observer. "We have had engagements with an established airline, Air Peace, and we are still continuing those discussions, and in the likelihood we are able to conclude those negotiations, we would see the establishment [of a route] between us and West Africa," he said.

Air Peace was not immediately available for comment.

Explaining why Antigua Airways charters have been suspended, Nicolas disclosed a dubious attempt by a third party to imitate the operation. "What has transpired since is that the efforts [of Antigua Airways] were imitated by another operator who would have arranged another charter without the knowledge of the Antigua and Barbuda government," he said. Based on intelligence reports, the objective of that other charter was to use Antigua as a stepping stone for people planning to transit to South America from where they planned to illegally cross the southern border of the United States. "That was clearly not the objective or intention of the government when establishing this air route," he said, which, accordingly, was suspended.

According to the Antigua Observer, an Abuja-based tour operator, FastFlyLinks Travel & Tours, had copied Antigua Airways' charter model to advertise flights from West Africa to Antigua and Barbuda for USD5,000 per person.

As reported, Antigua Airways - a virtual carrier - is a private-public partnership between Nigerian online travel agency Wakanow, African aviation services provider Aerostatus, and Nigerian printing and publishing firm Marvelous Mike Press Limited. The Antigua & Barbuda government owns 20% by supporting the airline through the Eastern Caribbean Commonwealth state's Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP), which provides citizenship to foreign investors who significantly contribute to the island's socio-economic development.

Antigua Airways chartered a B767-300ER from Portugal's euroAtlantic Airways (YU, Lisbon) in November, flying under "Antigua Airways operated by euroAtlantic Airways" titles.

Meanwhile, Antigua Airways Managing Director Opeyemi Olorunfemi told the Antigua Observer the company was working to address regulatory issues with the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA). "We are going to do whatever it takes to make Antigua Airways great, and we are ready to put our hands together on that to make sure that we make Antigua Airways the pride of the Caribbean," he said.