Commentary: A Morocco – Suriname air-bridge has potential to take off

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Born in Guyana, Raymond Chickrie was a teacher in the New York City public school system and has also taught in the Middle East.

By Ray Chickrie

Morocco is uniquely located in Northwest Africa between Europe, North and South America.

With its open sky agreement with the European Union (EU), and 5th Freedom rights with the Netherland, the potential of opening an air route between Casablanca and Paramaribo is very possible. This can expand Royal Air Maroc’s (RAM) presence in the region if the Moroccan carrier can find a feeder airline with a regional network.

However, the sad state of Surinam Airways (SLM) gives it little advantage of securing any major deals with any reputable airline like Air Maroc and Turkish Airlines.

After five years of holding talks with Turkish Airlines, the government and Surinam Airways have gotten no cooperation agreement with the Turkish company. And now, there is news that Suriname is interested in securing a cooperation agreement with RAM.

Casablanca – Paramaribo Route is about 6:30 flying time

Morocco signed an open skies agreement with the EU in December 2006. It is the only country in North Africa to sign such an agreement with the EU. This development led to an increase of more than 40% passenger movement and doubled new routes between the EU and Morocco.

Casablanca is a big hub for West Africa and Central Africa bound passengers and more recently Europe. The Moroccan company has a vast Central and West Africa network and a modern fleet. Airfares between NYC, London, Amsterdam and Paris are competition with Air Maroc. I flew the NYC/Casa/Amsterdam route with RAM. They offer passengers great inflight services, new planes and two suitcases free.

With a shortage of airlift, and lack of competitive airfares between Amsterdam and Paramaribo, Suriname, Royal Air Maroc can easily connect passengers from Amsterdam to Paramaribo via its Casablanca hub, or directly from Amsterdam. This makes sense looking at the strategic location of Casablanca. The possibility of Royal Air Maroc opening a schedule service to Paramaribo was discussed when the Moroccan minister of foreign affairs, Nasser Bourita visited Suriname in early June 2019.

According to an IATA study, Morocco and the Netherlands have a liberal bilateral air agreement that includes the 5th freedom. This agreement allows for any points of flight origin and destination, free pricing, and unlimited capacity. Also, multiple airlines are designated on any points, and most significantly, it includes Fifth Freedom. This freedom is also sometimes referred to as “beyond rights”.

Fifth Freedom basically means an airline has the permission from one country to land in a second country, to then pick up passengers and fly on to a third country where the passengers then deplane. For example, Royal Air Maroc flies from Casablanca to Amsterdam, boards passengers there and flies those passengers to Suriname, or the flight originates in Amsterdam.The Royal Air Maroc Network

Thus, it’s possible that Air Maroc can commence a flight in Amsterdam with a final destination to Paramaribo non-stop or via Casablanca. This could eliminate the need for SLM to fly its own aircraft on the route. SLM, the state owned airline, has only one long haul aircraft, an airbus 340 on the Amsterdam-Paramaribo route now. This route has caused great financial losses for the company.

The route also has great tourism potential. A recent TUIFly report identify that 30 percent of its passengers from Amsterdam to Suriname are booking full air and hotel packages.

The country has the potential to increase this but is yet to take tourism seriously and make the investment in infrastructure, especially hotel capacity and better quality tourism product. However, with the rise of commodity export, Suriname is getting out of its economic recession, but there is still no visionary and robust plan to grow Suriname’s tourism potential. And with its vast tourism experience, maybe Morocco can help Suriname.

It’s one big way of paying back Suriname for its decision to revoke recognition of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 2016. Nasser Bourita became the first Moroccan foreign minister to visit Suriname, and he is lobbying other countries in the Caribbean to also resend recognition of SADR.

Through trade and investment, Morocco is making progress in convincing more African countries to take its side on the Sahara issue. Using the same approach, Rabat hopes to make an impact in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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