By Pa Nderry M’Bai

Banjul, The Gambia: The US based North American Airlines Company today confirmed that it would suspend operations to the Gambia with effect from January 14TH, 2007. A spokesman of the leading airline told the Freedom Newspaper in an interview that the decision to suspend operations to the impoverished West African country was primarily caused by “lack of passengers.” The North American Airlines, started scheduled flights to the former British colony the Gambia on June 5Th, 2006. Barely less than six months, the company has announced to cease operations in that country. The company’s high expectations of attracting more Gambian passengers was shattered by what the company called “low winter season.” The company says Banjul has not been performing to their expectations and as such they thought it crucially necessary to “discontinue” operations” from that end until such a time that the business climate changes.

The Freedom Newspaper editors recently received a tip-off regarding North American Airlines’s intention of “suspending operations” to the Gambia due to lack of customers. Our source hinted that the company was experiencing difficulties in getting customers from Banjul. The source also said the company was running at a “loss” as there were no enough customers to patronize them. Sources close to The Gambia Civil Aviation Authority also confirmed that the airline was faced with lack of passengers. The North American Airlines has been in business since 1989. It was founded by Dan McKinnon former Chairman of the US Civil Aeronautic Board. The company’s recent move to target the Gambia for aviation purposes was highly welcomed by the local populace. It saved travellers from travelling via Dakar to make their trips to the US. Now that the company has announced to cease operations in the Gambia, observers say future travellers would be forced to travel via Dakar, as North American airline was the only airline which operates direct from Banjul to the United States. Contacted yesterday at his office Mr.Steve Forsyth Director, Corporate Communications W orld Air Holdings, Inc. confirmed that the North American Airlines was “indeed suspending operations to the Gambia.” We have agreed that we should suspend operations to the Gambia. We have been witnessing lack of passengers during the winter season. It’s unfortunate that we just cannot operate services that is not profitable or that doesn’t have the prospects to be profitable.”said the North American Airlines Communications officer in an interview with the Freedom Newspaper. Mr.Forsyth cites lack of customers year round to cover Banjul, as a justification for such a major decision. As a result of this, he says they thought it necessary to “discontinue services” to the Gambia come January 14. “We greatly appreciated the support we received from the Gambian and the United States governments.” he added. The North American Airlines Communications officer says as a company they operate on profit and once the prospects for such business opportunities don’t exists they would relocate their business to areas where their expectations would be met. He says their business in the Gambia have not been doing pretty well in recent times and as such they have agreed to cease operations for now. Mr.Forsyth says Ghana and Nigeria have been a good spot for airline business and they would continue to operate in the two West African countries. ” North American Airlines would still continue to fly to Accra and Lagos. We have been getting customers from that end.” he said. However, Mr.Forsyth could not confirm what would be the fate of the Gambian local staff at the North American Airlines office in Banjul. He says relevant management authorities would decide their fate. He told the Freedom Newspaper that the company had few staff in that office. Earlier on, Mr.Peter Bogovich, Director of Schedule Passenger sales at the North American Airlines also told this reporter that their company was on the verge of suspending operations to the Gambia. Mr.Bogovich who referred the Freedom Newspaper to the company’s Communications officer Steve Forsth for additional information on the story said lack of passengers was responsible for such a decision. The Gambian government has not yet reacted to the said developments. But sources close to the Gambia Civil Aviation Authority described the move taken by the American Airlines as “devastating” to the country’s ailing Aviation industry. An official of the Civil Aviation says the American Airlines was bringing a lot of “revenue to the government” while citing landing fees among others. He says the “withdrawal” would have far reaching repercussions on the Aviation’s financial activities. “We do not have a lot of activities taking place here these days. The government’s biggest hope was the American Airlines. The few flights we have here operate on transit. There is no doubt in mind that we are in big trouble.”said an official of the Gambia Civil Aviation. Within a year or so another Airline Company had announced to cease operations to the Gambia. First, it was the Ghana Airline, now the American Airlines have followed. The circumstances surrounding Ghana’s grounding was unclear at the material time. While some blame the move to safety reasons, others say it was due to lack of customers.

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