Congo Airways (8Z, Kinshasa N'Djili) is aiming for significant recovery and expansion in 2024, including rebuilding its fleet with one B777 for intercontinental flights to the United Arab Emirates and Europe and acquiring three A320s to reopen five African regional routes, according to CEO José Lueya Dubier.

During a news conference on March 7 carried by Congo Emergent TV, Dubier disclosed that the national carrier was negotiating for a B777 for the long-haul flights and three A320-200s. These acquisitions would be financed through an unnamed Congolese bank.

According to Dubier, Congo Airways' revival plan includes three phases: wet-leasing, lease-purchase, followed by firm orders to purchase.

Earlier this year, the airline disclosed plans to dry-lease three E190s in the first quarter of 2024, followed by a B777-200ER. Congo Airways currently operates three wet-leased B737-800s - two from AirExplore (ED, Bratislava) and one from KlasJet (KLJ, Vilnius), which were obtained following a two-month grounding of the airline late last year due to an aircraft shortage and lack of funds to maintain its inhouse fleet. The wet leases were facilitated through government funding of USD3.8 million, enabling revenue generation for salary payments in December 2023 after a prolonged delay.

The inactive in-house fleet numbers one DHC-8-Q400 in maintenance at Malta International, another Dash 8-Q400 reportedly beyond repair, and two A320-200s currently out of service due to engine issues.

Dubier said the airline was gradually repaying its debts while seeking further support. However, challenges remain, he acknowledged, including the grounded aircraft and the need for additional funding to fully execute the recovery plans.

The airline last year botched a deal with a potential investor, US-based infrastructure developer A&M Development, which assessed that all that was needed immediately to revive Congo Airways was USD25 million to facilitate the overhaul of the CFM International CFM56-5B6/P engines on the two A320s and to overhaul the landing gear on the two Dash 8s. A&M offered to cover the costs, but Congo Airways rejected the proposal, asserting the need for new aircraft.

Route growth plans

Meanwhile, Dubier said that targeted regional destinations for expansion include Douala (Cameroon), Lagos (Nigeria), Dakar Blaise Diagne International (Senegal), Bamako (Mali), and South Africa. Intercontinentally, the focus is on Dubai International.

Negotiations are also underway with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to obtain necessary Third Country Operator (TCO) authorisation by mid-2024, he said. "Why not make the inaugural flight to Brussels on June 30, 2024," he suggested. The European Commission continues to ban all carriers certified by the DRC's civil aviation authority (Autorité de l'aviation civile - AAC) for allegedly failing to adhere to the applicable international safety standards.

However, Dubier appeared optimistic about Congo Airways' prospects after it achieved more than 65% compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards during a Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) Continuous Monitoring Approach (CMA) conducted in mid-2023. He added that Congo Airways had also passed the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) in the last three years.