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Morocco opens skies to boost travel

Morocco’s internal air transport could be liberalized within a year.
Morocco’s internal air transport could be liberalized within a year.

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RABAT, Morocco (Reuters) -- Morocco has fully liberalized air transport to the country to help it meet ambitious targets for the development of its key tourism sector, Transport and Equipment Minister Kharim Ghellab said.

"Foreign airlines should look at the great opportunities offered by our liberalized air transport," Ghellab told Reuters in a recent interview. "They can get in touch with me directly".

From February 12, flagship or low-cost airlines have been able to operate scheduled or charter flights to Morocco from any airport abroad.

Previously, flagship carriers could only operate scheduled flights to Morocco and charter firms could only fly foreign tourists to the Muslim kingdom.

Ghellab said liberalization should boost Morocco's competitiveness as a destination, part of the country's efforts to double the number of foreign tourists to 10 million by 2010.

The country also wants to double hotel capacity to 170,000 beds by the end of the decade with five new resorts and to double employees in the sector to 1.2 million.

Passenger traffic is forecast to rise by 300 percent to 16.5 million in 2010 and the number of flights to and from Morocco should more than double to 1,300 per week, Ghellab said, with an average 80 new flights added each year.

"New flights will have to be programmed as we develop our hotel infrastructure," said Ghellab, a graduate of Paris Ecole Polytechnique and the government's youngest minister at 37.

Flagship carrier Royal Air Maroc (RAM) now controls around 60 percent of passenger traffic of 5.8 million per year.

European and Middle Eastern airlines dominate foreign firms currently serving Morocco, including Air France, British Airways, Alitalia, Iberia and Emirates.

Ghellab said the liberalization offered major incentives to international operators.

"Any airline that opens a regular route to Morocco will get exclusive rights for it for one year together with significant discounts on airport fees," he said.

Morocco in January privatized airport handling services, then controlled by RAM.

Ghellab said RAM, which is no longer on the privatization list, would not get any favorable treatment.

"RAM will abide, as other foreign airlines, by the same liberalization guidebook," he said, noting that the firm would operate a low-cost subsidiary by October.

Ghellab said traditional tourism markets such as France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain and the Middle East would be the main targets of the liberalization promotion efforts.

"We expect the liberalization to raise the European Union's current share of 75 percent of air traffic," he said.

Internal air transport, now under the control of RAM and Regional Airlines, will be liberalized within a year, he added.

RAM has 33 aircraft and serves 60 airports in 40 countries. Regional Airlines is a minor local player that serves mainly Spain, Portugal and Moroccan cities, using small jets.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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