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Air Djibouti Sets Sights On Air Freight

Relaunched national airline Air Djibouti, now managed by a company run by the frontman of heavy metal band Iron Maiden, is looking to remake itself as an Africa-wide air freight service.

The return of Air Djibouti, which went bankrupt in 2002, is part of the Red Sea state's goal of becoming a major logistics hub. It is building four new ports, two airports, and a USD$3.5 billion free-trade zone set to be partially open by the middle of next year.

Djibouti is squeezed between Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, sitting strategically at the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

"It happens to be our major target, the air cargo business," Dawit Michael Gebre-Ab, Air Djibouti's senior director of strategic planning, said on the sidelines of a Japan-Africa business forum held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

The state-owned carrier hopes to handle 1,000 tonnes of freight by the end of December. It plans to start services to Sudan, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana and countries in central Africa this year, with high-value items ranging from laptop computers to temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals and spare parts for the oil industry, Gebre-Ab said.

The company got a boost when the Djibouti government signed a management deal with Cardiff Aviation, a company based in Wales that was founded by Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, a pilot.

Dickinson told the BBC in June that his company's aim "is to let Air Djibouti represent the country in the best way possible."

Djibouti, a former French colony with a population of less than a million, is an ally in the West's fight against Islamic militancy and piracy. It hosts a large US and French military presence, as well as ships from other foreign navies policing the Gulf of Aden's shipping lanes against Somali pirates.

Global lenders, including the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank, as well as Chinese and other foreign firms are helping fund its infrastructure development.

Air Djibouti is one of a growing number of carriers in the region, where international airlines including Turkish Airlines and Emirates are also expanding services.

Gebre-Ab said the big Middle East carriers would be among Air Djibouti's major competitors.