February 24, 2012 / 11:27 AM / 7 years ago

Forrest, Brussels Airlines secure Congo licence

KINSHASA (Reuters) - A joint venture airline between Brussels Airlines and George Forrest has been given the green light to start operating in Democratic Republic of Congo after months of delays, the company said on Thursday.

A Brussels Airlines aircraft prepares for landing in Cointrin airport during sunrise over the Mont Blanc in Geneva December 1, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Korongo Airlines was expected to launch last year but the Congolese government refused to issue permission for the venture, leading to fears that the $11 million project would have to be abandoned.

Air travel in the vast Central African nation has been crippled by airlines having their licences removed after a series of accidents.

Korongo is 70 percent owned by Airbel, in which Brussels Airlines holds a 51 percent stake. Brussels Airlines is 45 percent owned by Germany’s Lufthansa (LHAG.DE).

George Forrest International, run by veteran Congo investor George Forrest, holds the other 49 percent of Airbel.

The other 30 percent of Korongo is held by Congolese investors.

Henry de Harenne, a spokesman for Forrest, said that “administrative difficulties” were behind the delay in launching the company, which aims to start flying between Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Johannesburg in April.

“The elections and their organisation might also have had an influence on that delay. In January (we got) all the licences and authorisations we were waiting for, so we now have � everything we need to start operating,” de Harenne added.

Joseph Kabila was re-elected in a November poll that was widely criticised as fraudulent by the international community and rejected by the opposition.

Forrest has been operating in Congo since 1922, playing a large role in mining and construction. But he has recently had a troubled relationship with the Kabila government.

Another George Forrest company, EGMF, is locked in a bitter dispute at the court of arbitration in Paris with Congo’s state mining company Gecamines over ownership of CMSK, a copper and cobalt asset in Katanga.

Congo has some of the world’s largest copper deposits and is attracting increasing numbers of investors to its mining sector despite the difficult business climate.

Reporting by Jonny Hogg; Editing by David Lewis

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