Samir M. Al Sayed Al Hashemi is organising start-up funds of up to $40 million (Dh146.8 million) to kick-start the airline in April. Image Credit: Courtsey: Legacy Aviation

Dubai: An Abu Dhabi-based UAE national is helping to set up an airline, Juba Air, in the newly independent African state of South Sudan, Gulf News has learnt.

Captain Samir M. Al Sayed Al Hashemi, chairman and chief executive officer of Legacy Aviation, an aviation consulting firm, is organising start-up funds of up to $40 million (Dh146.8 million) to kick-start the airline in April.

"We have already secured the initial approval from the South Sudan government to prepare for the take-off, following the issuance of the Air Operations Certificate for which we are working closely with the government on certification," he told Gulf News in an exclusive interview.

"South Sudan is an emerging market. It is a new country, although as a nation it existed for a long time. The country has a huge potential to grow. It's nearly a virgin market and we want to help it with our expertise."

He added that the return on investment could be double to triple compared to other markets.

An aviation expert, Captain Al Hashemi has also set up a company to manage the country's airport assets and help develop the infrastructure. He has also started a media company to launch radio and television stations.

The airline is being set up in partnership with a few investors from South Sudan. They have already deployed a Boeing 727 aircraft and negotiations are on to obtain a few Boeing 737-400s.

The airline, the first private carrier for the nine-month-old country, will be based in Juba Airport — the only international airport in the country. The airport is located on the outskirts of the country's capital city — Juba — to the northeast of the central business district of the city, on the western banks of the White Nile.

High profile

"The UAE is globally renowned for its forward-thinking and open policy approach when it comes to aviation, so seeing a high profile Emirati assisting South Sudan get on the map is of little surprise," Saj Ahmad, Chief Aerospace Analyst at UK-based Strategic-Aero Research, said.

"As a new country, the incentives from a government perspective to drive traffic, business and tourism, South Sudan will no doubt appreciate the expertise that Captain Al Hashemi will bring."

The government is planning to create a new administrative district where the capital will be located.

"The airport is about 30 kilometres away from the site of the new administrative district where the capital will shift. Either way, the airport is ideally located to cater to both places," he said. "However, the airport needs a lot of investment to cater to larger international airlines and handle bigger air traffic."

Juba Airport handles international and local airlines, cargo traffic and chartered commercial flights. It is also used by the South Sudanese military and by the United Nations relief flights for the country. The airport is at an altitude of 461 metres above sea level, and has one runway that is 2,400 metres long.

As of May 2011, Juba International Airport was undergoing improvements and expansion.

The work included expansion of the passenger and cargo terminals, resurfacing of the runway and installation of landing lights for night operations.

His company has already secured a three-year concession for ground handling of passengers and flights.

"We have a plan to upgrade facilities, expand the runaway to handle larger aircraft. The terminal building is capable of handling the current level of traffic, but not more. We will expand the facilities as well," he said.

Captain Al Hashemi said his company is mobilising resources for a US and a Spanish company to build a hangar that will take care of light maintenance of the airline's fleet.

"One of Juba Air's first destinations will be Dubai — which will help South Sudanese people access goods and services from international vendors," he said.