Air Senegal has just asked the authorities for permission to take off flights to the US … with a catch.
Air Senegal’s plans to fly to the US from Dakar
Air Senegal has just applied to the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to apply for non-stop flights between Senegal and the US. The airline expects to start this service around September 2021.
Air Senegal makes a standard request to be able to operate scheduled and / or charter flights with passengers and / or cargo between all points in Senegal and all points in the USA. There is another fold here: Air Senegal plans to operate this flight under a wet lease agreement with a foreign or US carrier. We’ll talk more about it in a moment because it doesn’t quite sound like that.
This is the first time Air Senegal has flown to the United States. It’s worth noting that Senegal’s Minister of Tourism and Aviation announced back in 2019 that Air Senegal plans to fly between Dakar and Washington within the next six months, although this never materialized.
Now that permission is officially requested, it is more likely that this will actually happen.
While the DOT filing doesn’t mention which market the airline wants to offer flights in, Dakar to Washington seems the most likely route:
- Washington has a large Senegalese population
- South African Airways previously flew between Dakar and Washington, but ended that flight in 2019
The Washington to Dakar flight would cover a distance of roughly 4,000 miles, so flights between the US and Africa don’t get much shorter (although there are some flights to North Africa that are even shorter).
Air Senegal will most likely fly to Washington Dulles
The basics of Air Senegal
Air Senegal was technically founded in 2016 as it was the successor to Senegal Airlines, which ceased operations that year. The airline is growing well and has a modern fleet as it has two A330-900neos, two ATR-72s and four A320 Family aircraft. In addition, Air Senegal has ordered eight A220s.
I would love to fly the Air Senegal A330-900neo. Cool looking plane huh?
Air Senegal A330-900neo Business Class
Air Senegal A330-900neo Economy Class
Air Senegal’s Wet Lease Technique
Given that Air Senegal has aircraft that are clearly capable of operating a US route, why does Air Senegal explicitly state that the flight will be operated on a wet lease basis? For those of you who are unfamiliar with a wet lease, it means one airline is leasing an aircraft and crew from another airline.
Well, in that case, Air Senegal would presumably use one of its A330-900neos as it is a technical matter:
- Senegal does not have a Category 1 safety rating from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which means that Senegal-registered aircraft cannot fly into the US
- One of Air Senegal’s A330-900neos has the registration code 9H-SZN, so that the aircraft is technically registered in Malta for the wet-lease operator Hi Fly Malta
- In other words, even though the aircraft is in the Air Senegal livery and has mostly Air Senegal crew, it is technically registered in Malta and is wet leased from Air Senegal to circumvent these restrictions
I can safely say that despite the unusual registration, Air Senegal intends to use its A330-900neo for this service.
Air Senegal A330-900neo outside
Can Air Senegal fly to the US at a profit?
I think Air Senegal is in a similar situation to so many other state airlines trying to launch flights to the US:
- South African Airways couldn’t make the route lucrative enough even with only twice weekly flights, and although the airline is a Star Alliance member, Washington Dulles is a hub
- At the same time, Air Senegal may have more loyalty in the local community as it is the national airline
- Air Senegal is state-owned so the airline may not even focus on making profits on the route, but see greater value in creating a connection between the two capitals
- Delta has flown between New York and Dakar twice a week in the past, so there is some demand for non-stop flights between the US and Dakar. At the same time, despite United’s recent expansion into Africa from Washington, Dakar was not one of the destinations where service was offered
- If Air Senegal can develop a sufficiently large route network in West Africa, the flight could possibly handle the connecting traffic well
RwandAir is another African airline that recently asked for permission to operate US flights. Air Senegal has the advantage of a significantly shorter flight and a larger community in the US, while Rwanda Air has the advantage of higher demand for high-end tourism.
Air Senegal has applied to the US DOT for permission to operate flights between Senegal and the USA from September 2021. The airline has not officially stated the planned route or frequencies, although I think Washington is the most likely destination and I wouldn’t, don’t expect the service to last more than a few days a week.
The airline can only request this service for technical reasons. Senegal does not have an FAA Category 1 Safety Rating, so it is a “Wet Lease” service in the sense that Air Senegal has an aircraft registered in Malta.
The government has been talking about this route for quite a while, so I’m curious to see if Air Senegal starts its service this time. I would love to fly with the airline!
What do you think – will Air Senegal take over the US service?