The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has announced the creation of a second national carrier, Air Congo, as a joint venture company with Ethiopian Airlines which will provide the new flag carrier with at least seven as yet undisclosed aircraft.

The announcement was made by DRC Transport Minister Chérubin Okende on official social media platforms. It follows a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the parties last month, according to which the DRC will own 51% of the new airline, with Ethiopian Airlines holding 49%.

“Back in the United Arab Emirates, I passed through Addis Ababa to give the President of the Republic’s strong message to our Ethiopian friends. We already have in the joint venture that we have envisaged, the name of the new company that we must create under the impetus of the President of the Republic, it will be Air Congo. And now, it is a question of doing everything to ensure that this project is carried out as soon as possible. We have no more time to waste. The Congolese people are waiting for concrete actions. The Congolese people want to be transported, to visit their neighbour by air,” Okende said.

However, the move was strongly criticised by human rights lobbyists. The national president of the Congolese human rights group (Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l'Homme - ASADHO), Jean Claude Katende, questioned why the DRC needed to create another national carrier when the country already had one in Congo Airways (8Z, Kinshasa N'Djili). “We are unable to make Congo Airways profitable and viable, [yet] we are going to create Air Congo. It is a pipe dream,” he said on Twitter. “How can a serious state have two public aviation companies (Congo Airways and Air Congo)? Why can't we only provide Congo Airways with new planes and new management? Is the practice of the [former president Joseph] Kabila's regime of creating parallel societies coming back?” he asked.

When signing the MoU with Ethiopian in Addis Ababa in September, Okende said: "The opening up of the national territory is the essential basis for economic and social development, in particular through the upgrading of air transport in optimal conditions of safety and security. It is in this context that I place my partnership strategy with Ethiopian Airlines. It is therefore essential for the Democratic Republic of Congo to have a standardised, reliable, and viable airline".

Meanwhile, State-owned Congo Airways recently signed an aircraft lease agreement with Kenya Airways (KQ, Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta) as part of a trade agreement signed between Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Congolese counterpart, Felix Tshisekedi, in April this year. That MoU involves Kenya Airways wet-leasing two E190s to Congo Airways to help boost its domestic operations and flight frequencies.

Congo Airways started operating in October 2015 with a paid-up capital of USD90 million dollars, using two A320-200s acquired from Alitalia (AZ, Rome Fiumicino), of which only one aircraft - 9S-ALU (msn 3362) is currently in active service, while 9S-AKD (msn 3412) is in maintenance at Casablanca Int'l, according to the ch-aviation fleets advanced module. Its fleet has grown to four aircraft: two A320-200s and two DHC-8-Q400s. It also has two E190-E2s and two E195-E2s on order, delivery of which is scheduled for May 2022 with the possibility of an earlier delivery at the end of 2021. Before the pandemic, it used to serve regional routes to Johannesburg O.R. Tambo (South Africa), Douala( Cameroon), and Cotonou (Benin), but now only serves domestic routes, according to the ch-aviation schedules module and Flightradar24 ADS-B data.