What happened to Equatorial Congo Airlines?

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Equatorial Congo Airlines was the flag carrier of Congo and promised to be one of Africa’s newest major airlines. After starting flights to a handful of long-haul destinations through wet-leases, the airline soon went bankrupt. So what happened to Equatorial Congo Airlines or ECAir?

ECAir 737-700
ECAir had a short flying history of just five years and quickly fell apart as finances struggled. Photo: Rolf Wallner via Wikimedia Commons

Kicking off

ECAir was founded in 2010 by a group of private investors and backed by the Congo government, which owned 70% of the airline. To make sure everything went smoothly, the government reportedly contracted Lufthansa’s consulting arm for the startup.

However, from the outset, the airline had a problem: all aircraft maintained in Congo were banned from flying to the EU. This meant the carrier was forced to outsource lease and maintenance to Swiss operator PrivatAir.

ECAir made its maiden flight in September 2011, flying from the capital of Brazzaville. The airline operated a Boeing 737-300 on the route, leased from PrivatAir. However, the airline had plans to quickly expand beyond domestic and regional routes and into Europe.

ECAir 757-200
Equatorial Congo Airlines always had its sights set on an international expansion. Photo: Toen96 via Wikimedia Commons

In 2012, just a year after its maiden flight, ECAir started a new service from Brazzaville to Paris CDG using a PrivatAir Boeing 757, registered HB-JJD. The flight would operate four times a week and ECAir hoped it would be the first route to boost connectivity to Congo. From 2012 onwards, the carrier quickly grew and made significant investments.

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Expansion

In the years that followed, ECAir continued expanding within Africa and eyed more long-haul routes. The airline added flights to Douala, Cameroon, and Libreville, Gabon, to bolster its network.

In early 2014, ECAir announced its second long-haul route to Dubai, flying three times a week at first, using the same Boeing 757-200. Later in the year, the airline signed an agreement with Jetairfly (now known as TUI Belgium) to provide a fleet of widebody 767-300ERs for its Paris route.

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ECAir 757 PrivatAir HB-JJE
ECAir continued to expand its fleet as late as 2015 to boost international operations and continue growing. Photo: Jeroen Stroes Aviation Photograph via Wikimedia Commons

The 767 expansion allowed the Dubai service to become a daily frequency while Paris saw six flights a week. For short-haul flights, ECAir replaced its aging 737-300s with -700s for more efficiency. In 2015, the airline started flights to Dakar, Senegal, and Bamako, Mali through a tag service.

To operate long-haul flights to the US and China, ECAir ordered a Boeing 787-8 (which was never delivered eventually). However, financial issues quickly arose and the airline began to crumble soon.

Storm clouds

According to Airline Geeks, ECAir never released a financial statement during its five years of operation, leading to rumors that it was close to bankruptcy. Investigations found that the airline lost a massive $500 million in five years in its bid to continue expanding and find profitability. Finally, in October 2016, after losing access to flight navigation software, ECAir shut down all operations.

However, the carrier might not be dead after all. After a slow liquidation process, many rumors (including from its official Twitter page) have circulated about the airline’s revival. Five years later, it’s still unclear what Equatorial Congo Airlines’ future will be and if it could fly again.
What do you think about ECAir’s rise and fall? Let us know in the comments!
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