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Why Universal Airlines flights to Monrovia and Freetown were canceled


In March, many Liberians, Sierra Leoneans and others, traveling from New York, to Monrovia and Freetown on flights that were supposed to be Universal Airlines first direct flight to these two West African countries, found themselves stranded in New York after the flights were first postpone a week, then canceled.The cancellation caused problems not only for frustrated passengers, but also for travel agents that sold seats on the flights. Attempts were made to contact many customers, but due to the last minute announcement by Universal Airline of the cancellation, agents were unsuccessful in reaching their customers, since many were already enroute to New York.Below is an AP story that explains the reasons the government of Guyana gave for the cancellation of the flights.

Guyana bans local airline from operating flights to two West African countries, citing smuggling fears

By BERT WILKINSON, AP
04/03/05

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) - Guyana banned a local airline from operating flights to two West African countries, saying the planned service could contribute to an increase in the smuggling of weapons, drugs and blood diamonds, officials said Sunday.

Authorities have withdrawn approval from Universal Airlines to operate a
weekly service between New York and Guyana and then on to Sierra Leone and Liberia because of the concerns, Transport Minister Anthony Xavier said.

Guyana-registered Universal was to begin the flights late last month on
contract with two Washington-based African tour package companies, company spokesman Mark Defreitas said.

The majority of seats on the African leg of the service were already booked because the price was much cheaper than flights through other destinations including Europe and total flying time would have been cut by about half, Defreitas said.

"We are very upset about this because they gave us approval and later wrote us withdrawing it without any explanation," he said.

Government authorities recently cited an astronomical increase in diamond production over the past four years in the former British colony of more than 700,000 people, saying there has been no match in the level of investments in the industry to explain the growth.

They have asked international diamond trade investigators to send a team to Guyana later this year to determine if blood diamonds funding civil wars in West Africa were being passed through this South American country and sold internationally as Guyanese stones to circumvent international certification processes.

Xavier said that while Universal has asked for a review of the decision "it was very unlikely that permission would be granted in the end" because of fears that lax policing in the two African countries could encourage smuggling of drugs, diamonds, weapons and people.

Universal Airlines Co. flies to New York, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and
several Caribbean islands including Trinidad and St. Kitts. It was founded in 1999.

 

 
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