AIRLINES: A new African bird

Airbus A319 of Gambia Bird

Airbus A319 of Gambia Bird

The Gambia has a new national airline linking together West Africa, just in time for this year’s International Roots Festival. But its implications for West African travel extend far beyond that.

There’s a new bird in the skies over West Africa — a Gambia Bird.

From its hub in the Gambian capital city of Banjul, the airline first took to the skies last November with a paired of leased Airbus A319s.

Gambia Bird’s primarily flies to West African countries belonging to ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States. However, it also connects the Gambia to Europe via London Gatwick and Barcelona, Spain.

One small airline for West Africa. One big step for West African tourism.

The airline’s name itself is a clever play on Gambian tourism. Birdwatching is huge in the Gambia, and people come from all over to get a glimpse of some of the nearly 600 species of birds — some of which are flirting with extinction.

Its startup comes just in time for the 2013 International Roots Festival. But its importance to the Gambia and the rest of West Africa extends far beyond that one event.

gambia bird route map

Prior to this, few African airlines and even fewer non-African carriers served the Gambia, Africa’s smallest country. That left most travelers either having to reach the Gambia via Senegal Airlines from Dakar or traveling overland from one of the Gambia’s neighbors.

Road travel is seldom a comfortable option in Africa. If anything, driving for hours or days over beat-up, overtaxed and under-maintained African roads should be reserved for those who find value in suffering.

Gambia Bird not only gives West Africa a fresh set of airline connections, but also makes it easier for Europeans to fly directly to “the smiling coast of Africa,” as the Gambia is known. It’s also another option for Americans wishing to visit the Gambia, since there are no direct flights as yet to the Gambia from the United States.

Gambia Bird represents another European venture into the African airline market. It was founded by the German low-fare airline Germania, which offers some seriously cheap airfares within the European continent.

At reported in the IBIT Travel Digest, Britain’s low-fare easyJet already has set up shop in East Africa and is looking to expand.

Little by litte, with a push from European airlines exploiting an open market, Africa’s frayed web of airline travel is slowly being stitched together.

If Gambia Bird succeeds, don’t be surprised to see new hotels follow on the heels — or the wingtips — of this new airline.

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